Friday, April 2, 2021
Sixth Circuit Allows Professor's First Amendment Suit to Proceed, Challenging Discipline for Refusal to use Transgender Student's Preferred Pronouns
The Cincinnati-based 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has reinstated a First Amendment lawsuit by a public college professor in Ohio who violated school policy by refusing to use a transgender student’s preferred pronouns.
The 6th Circuit ruled for Shawnee State University philosophy professor Nicholas Meriwether in a March 26 opinion by Judge Amul Thapar, an appeals court appointee of President Donald Trump. Thapar was viewed as a potential U.S. Supreme Court nominee during Trump’s presidency.
Meriwether, a devout Christian, believed God created humans as male or female, and said using preferred pronouns to refer to a student in his class violated his religious beliefs.
The student had protested after Meriwether referred to her as “sir.” University policy required professors to use students’ preferred pronouns, and Meriwether received a written warning.
Meriwether proposed a compromise where he would refer to the student only by her last name. At first it was accepted, but was later rejected. The university said Meriwether should either stop using all sex-based pronounds in his classroom, or he should refer to the transgender student as a female.
Meriwether sued for free speech and free exercise violations under the First Amendment, and due process and equal protection violations of the 14th Amendment. A federal judge tossed the claims, but the 6th Circuit reversed as to the First Amendment claims.
Thursday, April 1, 2021
Kyle Velte, The Nineteenth Amendment as a Generative Tool for Defeating LGBT Religious Exemptions, Minnesota L. Rev. (forthcoming)
In the summer of 1920, women gained the right to be free from discrimination in voting when the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified. One hundred years later, in the summer of 2020, LGBT people gained the right to be free from discrimination in the workplace when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County that sexual orientation and gender identity (“SOGI”) discrimination is sex discrimination under Title VII. Yet, LGBT people continue to face discrimination in many contexts, a prominent example of which is the national campaign by Christian business owners to obtain religious exemptions from state public accommodation laws. What does women’s suffrage have to do with today’s religious exemption debates? This Article contends that there is a through-line from a radical, antisubordination strand of the history of the Nineteenth Amendment to today’s fight over religious exemptions from SOGI antidiscrimination laws.
The antisubordination strand of Nineteenth Amendment history envisioned women’s suffrage as about more than just the right to cast a ballot. This capacious view of the Nineteenth Amendment—as a means of dismantling sex-based hierarchies and ensuring full citizenship rights regardless of sex—would allow women to engage in all aspects of life, both political and civic. Between the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment and today’s battles over SOGI religious exemptions stands 100 years of sex discrimination law. That era saw state legislatures enact public accommodation laws prohibiting sex discrimination in the public square; these laws extended to women the right of civic engagement and thus full citizenship. This body of sex discrimination law included the Court’s 1984 decision in Roberts v. United States Jaycees, which involved a challenge to one such law. The Jaycees Court upheld a public accommodation law against a claim that enforcement of the law—which would compel the Jaycees organization to admit women as full members—would violate the Jaycees’ First Amendment free speech rights. The Court reasoned that states have a compelling interest in eradicating sex discrimination in public. Jaycees expands the reach of the equality-enhancing aspect of the suffrage movement. It embodies the antisubordination strand of the women’s suffrage movement and stiches it into the fabric of the legal doctrine governing sex discrimination.
In today’s religious exemption cases, the Christian business owners argue that although the state has a compelling interest in eradicating race discrimination in the public square, it does not have a compelling interest in eradicating SOGI discrimination. This distinction, they argue, dictates that an exemption be granted vis-à-vis SOGI discrimination, even though such an exemption would be rejected vis-à-vis race discrimination. Bostock is the contemporary bridge that connects Jaycees to the SOGI religious exemption cases. Jaycees, in turn is the bridge back to the radical strand of the Nineteenth Amendment’s history: The Nineteenth Amendment was generative not simply of the right to vote, but of a commitment to full citizenship rights regardless of sex. That equality was formalized in state public accommodation laws, which Jaycees teaches serve a compelling state interest. Bostock, when coupled with Jaycees, directs the same conclusion for public accommodation laws that prohibit SOGI discrimination, namely that such laws serve a compelling state interest that defeats claims for religious exemptions.
Friday, March 19, 2021
Lisa Levenstein, They Didn't See Us Coming: The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties (2020)
From the declaration of the "Year of the Woman" to the televising of Anita Hill's testimony, from Bitch magazine to SisterSong's demands for reproductive justice: the 90s saw the birth of some of the most lasting aspects of contemporary feminism. Historian Lisa Levenstein tracks this time of intense and international coalition building, one that centered on the growing influence of lesbians, women of color, and activists from the global South. Their work laid the foundation for the feminist energy seen in today's movements, including the 2017 Women's March and #MeToo campaigns.
A revisionist history of the origins of contemporary feminism, They Didn't See Us Coming shows how women on the margins built a movement at the dawn of the Digital Age.
Hat tip Lisa Tetrault
Monday, November 2, 2020
Podcast Discusses the Potential Implications and Impacts of the Appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett
I discuss the potential implications and impacts of the recent appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court. Discussion includes the Court itself with shifting majorities and possibilities for court reform including court expansion, court reduction, term limits or retirement, or a bipartisan court. The discussion also delves into questions about potential substantive changes to the law of abortion, healthcare, same-sex marriage, and the death penalty.
Listen here: Women With Issues Podcast, Potential Impacts of The New Conservative Supreme Court
Friday, October 2, 2020
Chan Tov McNamarah, Misgendering, 109 California L. Rev. (forthcoming)
Pronouns are en vogue. Not long ago, introductions were limited exchanges of names. Today, however, they are increasingly enhanced with a recitation of the speaker’s appropriate gendered forms of address: he/him/his, she/her/hers, they/them/theirs, or perhaps even less common neopronouns like zie/zir/zirs, xe/xem/xir, or sie/hir/hirs. This development — like every other dimension of progress for LGBTQ+ people — has been met with fierce resistance. In particular, three prominent objections have surfaced:
(1) calls for pronoun respect are a fraught demand for “special rights” from a vocal queer minority;
(2) semantically, gendered pronouns, honorifics, and titles cannot constitute slurs or epithets; and
(3) that these gendered labels are “just words,” and the consequences of their misuse, if any, are trivial and legally in-cognizable.
This Article explains why these arguments fail without exception. The first two, it counters by placing mis-gendering in its historical context. Recovering the history of verbal practices meant to express social inferiority, exclusion, and caste, this Article demonstrates that mis-gendering is simply the latest link in a concatenation of disparaging modes of reference and address. From addressing Black persons by only their first names, the intentional omission of women’s professional titles, and the deliberate butchering of the ethnically-marked names of minorities, these verbal slights have long been used to symbolize the subordination of societally disfavored groups.
Next, the Article articulates the injuries of mis-gendering to the legal academy, the judiciary and, ultimately, to the law. Until now, scholarship has largely overlooked mis-gendering as a pernicious socio-linguistic practice. To fill this gap, the Article identifies and examines the injuries of mis-gendering by looking to the stories of those who experience it. Drawing on a range of sources, including first-hand accounts, the Article presents, for the first time, a layered account of the harms caused by the mis-attribution of gender. It then closes by exploring the implications of these harms for law and legal practice, and laying the groundwork for potential reforms.
All told, the Article makes at least four contributions. First, contextually, it places mis-gendering in its historical milieu; along a continuum of verbal practices designed and deployed to harm the socially subordinated. Second, descriptively, by consulting original interviews, collected accounts, case law, philosophical scholarship, medical literature, and social science research, the Article offers a sustained discussion of mis-gendering’s injuries to gender minorities’ autonomy, dignity, privacy, and self-identity. Even while making the latter two contributions, the Article makes a third, corrective one, as well: It takes up the necessary work of challenging and dispelling mistaken narratives on the wrongfulness and harmfulness of gender mis-attributions, and replaces them with ones that center the lived realities of gender diverse persons. Fourth, prescriptively, the Article ends by outlining concrete illustrations of how the law must adapt to respond to and recognize the discriminatory harms it identifies.
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
The United States Supreme Court's historic June 15 decision about LGBTQ workers' rights had its first impact on how courts define sex discrimination at colleges.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit concluded that Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the law prohibiting sex discrimination at federally funded institutions, also protects transgender students from discrimination based on their identity, said the court's Aug. 7 decision, written by Judge Beverly Martin.
"We conclude that Title IX … prohibits discrimination against a person because he is transgender, because this constitutes discrimination based on sex," Martin wrote.
Martin drew upon the Supreme Court's new interpretation of "sex," which includes sexual orientation and gender identity, and decided a transgender high school student in Florida could sue his former school district for its bathroom policy. The policy blocked the student, who identifies as male, from using the boys' bathroom because he was not biologically male and required him to use a female or gender-neutral bathroom, court documents said.
The decision could impact how colleges in the 11th Circuit, which encompasses Alabama, Florida and Georgia, implement bathroom policies and could subject colleges within the states to Title IX lawsuits related to discrimination against transgender students more broadly
Monday, August 17, 2020
NY Times Special Issue on Women's Suffrage and the 19th Amendment Challenges Myths and Offers More Inclusive Version of the Legal History
The NY Times features this special section on women's suffrage on the 100th Anniversary of Women's Suffrage:
Historians who specialize in voting rights and African-American women’s history have played a welcome and unusually public role in combating the myths that have long surrounded the women’s suffrage movement and the 19th Amendment, which celebrates its 100th anniversary on Tuesday.
In the lead-up to this centennial, these same campaigning historians have warned against celebrations and proposed monuments to the suffrage movement that seemed destined to render invisible the contributions of African-American women like Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Mary Church Terrell, Sojourner Truth and Ida B. Wells — all of whom played heroic roles in the late 19th- and early 20th-century struggles for women’s rights and universal human rights. In addition to speaking up for Black women of the past, these scholars have performed a vital public service by debunking the most pernicious falsehood about the 19th Amendment: that it concluded a century-long battle for equality by guaranteeing women the right to vote.
Americans who imbibed this fiction in civics classes are caught off guard when they hear the more complicated truth — that millions of women had won voting rights before the 19th Amendment was ratified, and millions more remained shut out of the polls after ratification. Indeed, as middle-class white women celebrated ratification by parading through the streets, African-American women in the Jim Crow South who had worked diligently for women’s rights found themselves shut out of the ballot box for another half century — and abandoned by white suffragists who declared their mission accomplished the moment middle-class white women achieved the franchise.
As the distinguished historian Nancy Hewitt has shown, a lengthy campaign and a range of subsequent laws was required to fully open ballot access to others, including Black women, Mexican-Americans, Native Americans, Chinese-Americans and Korean-Americans. Among those necessary laws were the repeal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1943 and the adoption of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, the 24th Amendment in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965, along with its amendments of 1970 and 1975. In other words, the 19th Amendment was one step in a long, racially fraught battle for voting rights that seemed secure a few decades ago but face a grave threat today.
Maya Salam, How Queer Women Powered the Suffrage Movement
Martha Jones, Tackling a Century-Old Mystery: Did my Grandmother Vote?
Sarah Elizabeth Lewis, For Black Suffragists, the Lens Was a Mighty Sword
Cathleen Cahill & Sarah Deer, In 1920, Native Women Sought the Vote: Here's What was Next
Thursday, July 2, 2020
Luke A. Boso, Anti-LGBT Free Speech and Group Subordination
In 2020, the Supreme Court in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia held that Title VII, a federal workplace antidiscrimination law, prohibits discrimination against gay and transgender employees. The majority concluded by citing potential concerns from religious and conservative dissenters, and it suggested that Constitutional and statutory principles of religious freedom and free speech might override LGBT-inclusive antidiscrimination commands in appropriate cases.
This Article is about the tension between liberty and equality. It examines this tension in the context of disputes over Free Speech and LGBT rights. Today, dominant conceptions of both Equal Protection and Free Speech are informed by libertarian ideology, reflecting a commitment to limited government oversight and regulation. A pluralistic and progressive society must more adequately balance libertarian interests in the exercise of individual rights — like Free Speech — with the need for government action to promote equitable outcomes. This Article joins voices prominent in the field of Critical Race Theory who argue for an antisubordinating approach to both equality and liberty. Simply put, if the triumph of a Free Speech claim would enforce a status hierarchy that positions historically oppressed groups as inferior, that Free Speech claim should fail.
The moment is ripe to reconceptualize liberty and equality. In response to a shifting social and legal climate that is increasingly less tolerant of bullying, embraces liberal sexual and gender norms, and seeks to institute formal equality for formerly disfavored groups, many in the conservative movement have turned to the First Amendment to protect the status quo. A libertarian view of the Constitution ensures that meaningful liberty and equality exist only for some. The LGBT community and the backlash to its increasingly protected legal status sit at the epicenter of current court battles over the contours of equality and the breadth of the First Amendment, but equity for all marginalized groups is at stake.
Wednesday, May 20, 2020
The Causation Problem of "Because of Sex" in the Trio of Supreme Court Cases on Title VII, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, and a Proposed Solution
Shirley Lin, Aimee Stephens and Preserving Our Broader Understandings of Sex, JURIST
Just last week, we were saddened by the loss of Aimee Stephens at age 59. Ms. Stephens was a Detroit funeral director who, in 2013, announced a gender transition that exposed her employer’s deep intolerance toward transgender people. For seven years, she challenged the harsh dismissal and loss of livelihood that followed the announcement. Although she will not hear the Supreme Court’s decision in her case, Ms. Stephens’ unwavering commitment to workplace dignity made history in 2018 in her landmark victory before the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in one of the most nuanced examinations of sex discrimination ever issued.
The decision in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. is best understood as a doctrinal correction to the current ideological drift in causation theory in discrimination law. Since 1989, a segment of the Court has pursued approaches that needlessly narrow the effectiveness of Title VII through causation analysis and anti-classification.
The law’s plain language prohibits discrimination against any individual “because of such individual’s…sex.” An employer generally cannot use an employee’s protected trait — here, her sex — to harm or otherwise disadvantage her. Under a different provision, the causation element of proving discrimination against an employee is a factual question due to other reasons employers may point to as the genuine, non-discriminatory reason for its action against the employee. In other words, it is a separate element from the trait element. Thus, “because of…sex” has been interpreted to encompass not only claims regarding women being passed over for men because they are women, but also contextual subordination that relies upon our sex trait, including gender stereotyping, sexual assault, quid pro quo sexual harassment, and hostile work environment. No less than race or religion, sex is a protected trait from which we infer meaning, and experience harm, based upon variable circumstances of time and place.
Thus, the Sixth Circuit unanimously held that “it is analytically impossible to fire an employee based upon that employee’s status” as a transgender person or lesbian employee “without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” But the panel took the farther step of affirming the non-binary sex spectrum. ***
However, buried in the Second Circuit’s en banc opinion in Zarda v. Altitude Express (also pending within the Title VII trio of cases the Court heard with Ms. Stephens’s case) was an outlier within the groundswell of courts seeking to course-correct causation analysis. There, a plurality ventured that a gay man’s status was the “but-for cause” of his dismissal, because if he had been a heterosexual woman married to a man, rather than a gay man, his status was determinative of the outcome. This theory, raised on appeal among other theories, conflates the social trait and causation elements of disparate treatment claims and thus competes with the approach of examining the social context of the sex trait. If misapplied to future sex and other trait discrimination cases, but-for causation could flatten existing sex discrimination analysis at a time when society has made significant strides toward recognizing intersex, non-binary, and gender-fluid people.
Shirley Lin, Dehumanization "Because of Sex": The Multiaxial Approach to the Title VII of Sexual Minorities, Lewis & Clark L. Rev. (forthcoming)
Although Title VII prohibits discrimination against any individual “because of such individual’s . . . sex,” legal commentators have not yet accurately appraised Title VII’s trait and causation requirements embodied in that phrase. Since 2015, however, many courts have read “sex” in Title VII as a socially defined trait and evaluate social construction of a protected trait before identifying causation when a court detects subordination. This Article builds on this judicial consensus by introducing “multiaxial analysis,” a framework with which judges and stakeholders identify the role of Title VII’s protected traits as socially constructed along four axes: the aggrieved individual’s self-identification, the defendant-employer, society, and the state. This context-sensitive approach to subordination gives fuller effect to Title VII’s provisions and purposes as compared to sex stereotyping theory or the “but-for causation” method recently raised with the Supreme Court in the Title VII suits brought by gay and transgender plaintiffs. Uncoupling causation from the sex trait analysis will realize the statute’s civil rights protections as localities increasingly recognize the scope of sex beyond a fixed binary.
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Robin Dembroff, Issa Kohler-Hausmann & Elise Sugarman, What Taylor Swift and Beyoncé Teach Us About Sex and Causes, U. Penn. L. Rev. (forthcoming)
In the consolidated cases Altitude Express v. Zarda, Bostock v. Clayton County, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, the Supreme Court will decide whether or not Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the parties disagree as to the appropriate formulation of a but-for test to determine whether or not there was a discriminatory outcome, all parties do agree to the use of such a test, which asks “whether the evidence shows ‘treatment of a person in a manner which but for that person’s sex would be different.’” City of Los Angeles, Dep’t. of Water and Power v. Manhart, 435 U.S. 702, 711 (1978). However, but-for tests confuse more than they clarify the inquiry; a discriminatory outcome cannot be explained by appeal to just a discrete characteristic of a particular person. Individuals are not discriminated against because of these characteristics per se. Rather, they are discriminated against because of the social meanings and expectations that attach to these characteristics. Beyoncé and Taylor Swift illustrate the difference between individual-level causation and social explanation in two separate songs, “If I Were a Boy” and “The Man.” The explanation for why the counterfactual ‘male’ Beyoncé and Swift are evaluated differently than their current ‘female’ versions does not lie in individual-level features considered apart from the social world, but in social-level roles and expectations associated with those features. For this reason, a social explanation test—one that asks whether the social meanings of sex characteristics, rather than the characteristics per se, explain the outcome in question—is more suitable for determining whether or not Title VII has been violated.
Friday, April 3, 2020
Naomi Schoenbaum, The New Law of Gender Nonconformity, 105 Minnesota L. Rev. (forthcoming)
A central tenet of sex discrimination law is the protection of gender nonconformity: unless a feature of biological sex requires it, regulated entities may not expect that individuals will conform their gender performance to the stereotypes of their sex. This doctrine is critical to promoting the antistereotyping aims of sex discrimination law by allowing gender nonconformers from aggressive women to caregiving fathers to challenge expectations that would limit them to the gender performance that accords with their sex. More recently, courts have extended gender nonconformity protection to transgender persons in cases where discrimination is due to the transgender person’s gender performance. The Supreme Court will consider this new law of gender nonconformity this term in EEOC v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, which asks whether sex discrimination law of the workplace covers transgender discrimination.
Notwithstanding its partial success, the gender nonconformity doctrine is the wrong path for pursuing transgender rights. The doctrine has led to losses when transgender persons are discriminated against not for their gender performance, but for seeking recognition as their identified sex rather than the sex they were assigned at birth. Transgender plaintiffs are likely to continue to lose under the doctrine when seeking such recognition in the long list of contexts—like bathrooms, dress codes, sports, schools, and beyond—that are still lawfully sex segregated. Even transgender plaintiffs’ successes under the doctrine are Pyrrhic victories. Under the gender nonconformity doctrine, a plaintiff who was designated male at birth but who identifies as female is an effeminate man rather than a woman. The doctrine thus reinforces the notion that transgender persons are their birth-designated sex, contrary to substantial medical and legal authority, and to the claims of transgender persons seeking recognition as their identified sex. And treating transgender plaintiffs as gender nonconformers risks harm not only to transgender rights, but to protection for gender nonconformity, by raising the bar to prove such claims, even in paradigm cases. Regardless of the outcome in Harris, this Article has implications for transgender rights throughout sex discrimination law.
These losses and harms are not inevitable. They all stem from one error—misunderstanding transgenderism as a matter of gender rather than sex—that can be corrected. As a few courts have suggested, discrimination on the basis of seeking recognition for one’s identified sex is discrimination on the basis of sex. Contrary to the concerns of some courts and scholars, extending protection to transgender discrimination would advance rather than undermine the antistereotyping aims of sex discrimination law. Doing so under the right theory can protect transgender persons while promoting sex discrimination law’s historic role in fighting sex stereotypes.
Monday, September 30, 2019
SCOTUS to Consider Question of whether Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity are Protected by Title VII
Lots of writing and thinking about the upcoming Supreme Court cases to be heard on Oct. 8 on whether Title VII's "because of sex" extends to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The consolidated cases are, from SCOTUSblog:
Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618 [Arg: 10.8.2019]
R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, No. 18-107 [Arg: 10.8.2019]
|Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623 [Arg: 10.8.2019]
Issue(s): Whether the prohibition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), against employment discrimination “because of . . . sex” encompasses discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation.
Some of the analysis includes:
Andrew Koppelman, LGBT Discrimination and the Subtractive Moves
The Supreme Court will shortly consider whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination in employment, covers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The lower courts are split on whether such protection is granted by the plain language of the statute. The judges who reject the discrimination claim argue that the statute does not prohibit activity that is explicitly within its scope, and which is part of the mischief that the statute aims to remedy. Their subtractive strategy, an innovation in statutory interpretation, comprises a number of different argumentative moves, with a common aim: to draw upon the cultural context at the time of enactment to avoid an unwelcome implication of a statute’s plain language. This strategy however maximizes judicial discretion and betrays the promise of textualism.
In a pair of cases that’ll be argued on October 8th—Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618, and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623—the Supreme Court will consider whether the provision in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 making it unlawful for a covered employer to “discriminate against” an employee “because of such individual’s . . . sex” prohibits that employer from firing an employee because he’s a gay man.
The defendant employers and the Solicitor General recently filed their briefs arguing that there’s no Title VII liability in these cases. Those briefs frame the issue in a particular, familiar way: They assume that the Court’s decision depends upon whether it would violate Title VII for an employer to implement a policy that categorically excludes all persons with same-sex orientation, gay men and lesbians alike, from the workforce—as though the cases involve what a couple of court of appeals judges (Judge Lynch in the Second Circuit and Judge Sykes in the Seventh Circuit) described as employers who “insist that [their] employees match the dominant sexual orientation regardless of their sex” and therefore hire “only heterosexual employees.”As I’ll explain in Parts IV and V of this post, I think such a categorical “heterosexuals only need apply” policy would violate Title VII, even if it equally affected gay men and lesbians alike. Before getting to that discussion, however, in Part III I explain why this common framing of the question—based on a hypothetical employer who believes that homosexuality as such is immoral and thus won’t employ gay men or lesbians—is not, in fact, the scenario raised by these cases or, indeed, by virtually any of the reported cases in which employees have alleged that they were fired because of their same-sex orientation. In Bostock and Zarda, for instance, if the supervisors in question did fire the plaintiffs (at least in part) because they were gay men--something the plaintiffs will have to establish--it's not at all obvious that they would have fired similarly situated lesbians, too. Indeed, both of the defendant employers in these cases, like almost all employers covered by Title VII, steadfastly insist that they don't have a policy or practice of hiring only heterosexuals—in part, no doubt, because such discrimination would be unlawful wholly apart from Title VII, but also because very few employers in the nation today would be willing to exclude all gay employees from their workforce: such a policy or open and notorious practice would be foolhardy, if not economically disastrous (not to mention morally odious) for almost employers.Once this crucial point is acknowledged—namely, that there’s no reason to believe these employers would have treated lesbian employees the way they (allegedly) treated the gay male plaintiffs—that ought to resolve the Title VII question, because both the Solicitor General and the defendants themselves concede that even if Congress didn’t intend to prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation, as such, it is a form of prohibited sex discrimination for a covered employer to treat a gay man less favorably than the employer would have treated a similarly situated lesbian (or vice versa).
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes on behalf of Stephens, arguing her former employer fired her because she is transgender, violating federal civil rights laws. The funeral home and its owner Thomas Rost, however have since argued that “maintaining a professional dress code that is not distracting to grieving families is an essential industry requirement that furthers their healing process.”
This dispute will play out before the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 8, where the justices will grapple with a broader question of whether gender identity should be protected under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, national origin, and religion. The divisive issue has been drawn into the national spotlight, and pits two federal agencies against each other.
The funeral home’s dress code argument, backed by the Justice Department, reveals a practical clash in the workplace that could be resolved when the high court issues its opinion. Whether these policies are permitted under Title VII already falls in a legal gray area, and has prompted challenges for decades and inspired some state action recently, specifically over hair or grooming policies.
Tuesday, September 17, 2019
Suzanne A. Kim & Edward Stein, Gender in the Context of Same-Sex Divorce and Relationship Dissolution.
This article identifies ways that judges, lawyers, researchers, and policy makers may attend to the role of gender and gender dynamics facing same-sex couples upon divorce or other relationship dissolution. When same-sex couples marry, the legal system and society at large may project conceptions of gender onto same-sex couples, often in a manner that conflicts with couples’ intentions and practices. Gender and gender dynamics may affect the bases for dissolution, the financial aspects of dissolution, and the determination of child custody. The article also suggests directions for future research on the impact of gender on the dissolution of same-sex relationships.
Tuesday, September 3, 2019
Jessica Clarke, How the First Forty Years of Circuit Precedent Got Title VII's Sex Discrimination Provision Wrong, Texas Law Review Online, Forthcoming
The Supreme Court will soon decide whether, under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is discrimination “because of sex” to fire an employee because of their sexual orientation or transgender identity. There’s a simple textual argument that it is: An employer cannot take action on the basis of an employee’s sexual orientation or transgender identity without considering the employee’s sex. But while this argument is simple, it was not one that federal courts adopted until recently. This has caused some judges to object that the simple argument must be inconsistent with the original meaning of Title VII. In the words of one Fifth Circuit judge, “If the first forty years of uniform circuit precedent nationwide somehow got the original understanding of Title VII wrong, no one has explained how.”
This Essay explains how the first forty years of circuit precedent got Title VII wrong. It demonstrates that, rather than relying on the statutory text, early appellate decisions relied on their era’s misunderstanding of LGBTQ identities as pathological, unnatural, and deviant. The errors of the early cases persisted as a result of stare decisis, until the old doctrine was rendered indefensible by changing social attitudes, the rise of textualism, and the Supreme Court’s recognition that Title
Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Rivka Weill, Women’s and LGBTQ Social Movements and Constitutional Change -- On Geoffrey Stone’s Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century, Jerusalem Review of Legal Studies, Forthcoming
This essay reviews Geoffrey Stone’s “Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century.” Part I offers a synopsis of the treatise to make it accessible to the general public. Stone’s 600 pages book reviews the regulation of sex in the ancient cultures of the Greeks, Romans, and ancient Hebrews. It later discusses the evolution of the regulation of sex in Christianity and the English common law. Stone then focuses specifically on US regulation of obscenity, contraception, abortion, and same-sex marriage to portray a story of progress with a warning that much of this progress depends on the composition of the Supreme Court. Part II reveals the contribution of Sex and the Constitution to the literature with respect to the ways social movements may bring about constitutional change outside the formal process defined in the Constitution for amendment. Part III offers some critical reflections on the book. In particular, it argues that Stone’s book implicitly asserts great similarities between women’s and LGBTQ movements’ struggles for the recognition that their rights demand constitutional protection. Yet, Stone should have acknowledged more forcefully the major differences between the two struggles. They differ substantially in their opening positions, their agendas for social change, the length of the struggles, the pace of change, and their successes. Some possible explanations are offered for the rather meteoric success of the LGBTQ members in transforming law and society within a short period in comparison to the rather slow pace of change for women. Moreover, while women’s successes assisted the gay rights revolution, some of the advancement in gay rights came at the expense of advancement of women.
Thursday, July 11, 2019
Suzanne Kim & Edward Stein, "Gender in the Context of Same-Sex Divorce and Relationship Dissolution"
We suggest that marriage is likely to remain gendered in a variety of ways in the near term, although how it may continue to be gendered over time is not clear. We focus here on some ways in which gender may continue to play a role in the dissolution of the relationships of same-sex couples in the U.S., specifically with respect to (i) the grounds for divorce, dissolution, and annulment, (ii) the financial aspects of relationship dissolution, (iii) the custody of children, and (iv) the social experience of divorce and relationship dissolution more generally. We draw on existing social scientific and legal research, but because same-sex marriage has only been legal for just over a dozen years and in place across the country for just over two years, many of the questions about gender and
same-sex divorce cannot be answered without more research and the passage of time.
Thursday, June 20, 2019
Marie-Amelie George, Framing Trans Rights, Northwestern U. L. Rev. (forthcoming)
In the wake of marriage equality, opponents of LGBT rights refocused their attention and made transgender rights their main target. To persuade voters to maintain gender identity anti-discrimination protections, LGBT rights campaigns have presented trans identity in a specific but limited way, emphasizing gender-conforming transgender individuals and thereby implicitly reinforcing the gender binary. Although LGBT rights groups have succeeded in their efforts, their messaging may undermine the movement’s broader litigation strategy and render even more vulnerable the substantial portion the transgender community that identifies as non-binary.
The trans rights framing choices thus raise questions about how the LGBT movement’s advocacy decisions blur the lines between success and failure, advancement and retrenchment. To illustrate this tension, this Article details the history of marriage equality campaign strategies, identifying how and why LGBT rights groups applied those frames to trans rights. Using these events, this Article analyzes the factors that both motivate and circumscribe social movements’ framing decisions more generally to identify whether and how to alter trans rights advocacy.
How trans rights are framed is a significant subject that extends far beyond whether a specific city or state maintains or eliminates its gender identity protections. Although political positioning in an electoral campaign may seem far removed from the work of courts, legislatures, and administrative advocacy, this Article demonstrates how porous the boundaries are, such that the frames of the former have a substantial impact on the latter. Drawing on the scholarly literatures on acoustic separation and popular constitutionalism, this Article identifies why it is that LGBT state and local ballot measure contests cannot be separated from the movement’s broader strategies. It consequently provides suggestions for reframing transgender ballot measures.
Wednesday, May 22, 2019
Jessica Clarke, Pregnant People?, 119 Colum. L. Rev. Online (Forthcoming)
In their article Unsexing Pregnancy, David Fontana and Naomi Schoenbaum undertake the important project of disentangling the social aspects of pregnancy from those that relate to a pregnant woman’s body. They argue that the law should stop treating the types of work either parent can do — such as purchasing a car seat, finding a pediatrician, or choosing a daycare — as exclusively the domain of the pregnant woman. The project’s primary aim is to undermine legal rules that assume a gendered division of labor in which men are breadwinners and women are caretakers. But Fontana and Schoenbaum argue their project will also have benefits in terms of equality for expectant LGBT parents. To further this project, this Response asks what unsexing pregnancy might look like for different types of pregnant people: (1) pregnant individuals who do not identify as women, (2) expectant couples in which one partner is pregnant, (3) expectant parents engaging a surrogate or pursuing adoption, and (4) pregnant people who rely on networks of family and friends for support and caregiving. It argues that, in each of these contexts, the extension of pregnancy benefits raises a unique set of questions. But across all of these contexts, it will take more than simply making existing pregnancy rules gender neutral to achieve equality.
Monday, April 22, 2019
Supreme Court Grants Cert to Resolve Circuit Split on Whether LGBTQ Bias is "Sex" Discrimination under Title VII
The US Supreme Court granted cert today in Altitude Express v. Zarda, RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, and Bostock v. Clayton County on the question of "Whether Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people based on (1) their status as transgender or (2) sex stereotyping under Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U. S. 228 (1989)."
The Supreme Court on Monday added what could be landmark issues to its docket for the next term: whether federal anti-discrimination laws protect on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The court accepted three cases for the term that begins in October. They include a transgender funeral home director who won her case after being fired; a gay skydiving instructor who successfully challenged his dismissal; and a social worker who was unable to convince a court that he was unlawfully terminated because of his sexual orientation.
The cases shared a common theme: whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, is broad enough to encompass discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
At least nine federal circuit courts ruled in decisions prior to 2007 that sexual orientation wasn’t covered by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits bias against workers and job applicants based on their “sex.” The tide began to shift in 2015, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decided in a federal sector case that Title VII does apply to sexual orientation.
In a groundbreaking decision in 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit became the first federal appeals court to rule that Title VII covers sexual orientation when it said a lesbian job applicant could sue an Indiana community college for discrimination. While the Eleventh Circuit decided earlier that year that the law doesn’t apply to sexual orientation, the Second Circuit deepened the split in the courts with its 2018 ruling that it does.
The Court agreed to hear three cases that have to do with whether existing federal bans on sex discrimination in the workplace also prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In the consolidated Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, a skydiving instructor and a child welfare services coordinator, respectively, said they were fired for being gay. And in R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a funeral home employee said she was fired because she came out as transgender.***
The cases cover a big gap in LGBTQ rights in the US: Under federal and most states’ laws, LGBTQ people aren’t explicitly protected from discrimination in the workplace, housing, or public accommodations (like restaurants, hotels, and other places that serve the public).
Monday, April 15, 2019
David Fontana & Naomi Schoenbaum, Unsexing Pregnancy, 119 Columbia L. Rev. (2019)
Because sex does not dictate the capacity to provide care in the home or work in the market, sex-equality law combats harmful sex stereotypes by eliminating statutes and regulations that assign these roles on the basis of sex. When it comes to pregnancy, though, courts and commentators alike chart a very different course. They assume that pregnancy is a biological event that is almost exclusively for women. Thus, equal protection jurisprudence accepts the legal assignment of carework during pregnancy to women, and a range of laws regulating pregnancy carework — from prenatal leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act to health benefits under the Affordable Care Act to employment protections under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act — apply only or mostly to women. Even though the sexed law of pregnancy stands in stark contrast to the unsexed law of parenting, the sexed pregnancy has avoided challenge and largely escaped notice.
This Article makes visible the law of the sexed pregnancy, identifies and evaluates the core tension it generates in the law of sex equality, and considers how to unravel this tension. Of course, typically only women can physically carry a child, and therefore some pregnancy regulations are appropriately sex specific. But the nine months of pregnancy encompass a range of carework, much of which has little or nothing to do with the physical fact of pregnancy. Expectant fathers can, for example, buy a carseat, quit smoking, take a childcare class, and choose a pediatrician or daycare center for the child. Given the ability to disaggregate sex from much of the carework of pregnancy, the law’s failure to do so marks women for caregiving and men for breadwinning in the same problematic way that sex-equality law has tried to combat after a child is born. And while pregnancy implicates real concerns about a woman’s constitutional right to bodily autonomy, this concern alone cannot justify the failure to scrutinize all sex-based pregnancy regulations, because much prebirth carework does not involve the woman’s body at all. After surfacing the law’s anomalous sexed treatment of pregnancy, this Article considers how to harmonize the law of sex equality. This effort can advance not only the goal of equality between the sexes, but also equality for lesbian, gay, and transgender parents, while at the same time enhancing women’s autonomy.