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In first, fed’l appeals court rules anti-gay bias barred under current law

Panel finds sexual orientation bias barred under Title VII

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same-sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade
same-sex marriage, gay news, Washington Blade

For the first tine, a federal appeals court has ruled anti-gay bias is illegal under current law.

For the first time, a federal appeals court has determined discrimination based on sexual orientation amounts to sex discrimination and is unlawful under current civil rights law.

In a 69-page decision, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled Tuesday in the case of Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College anti-gay workplace bias is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, reversing an earlier decision from a three-judge panel finding precedent precludes the court from making that determination.

Writing for the majority in the 8-3 decision, U.S. Chief Judge Diane Wood, a Clinton appointee, finds discrimination based on sexual orientation constitutes discrimination based on one’s perception of gender stereotypes, which the U.S. Supreme Court has determined is unlawful under Title VII.

“Any discomfort, disapproval, or job decision based on the fact that the complainant—woman or man— dresses differently, speaks differently, or dates or marries a same-sex partner, is a reaction purely and simply based on sex,” Wood writes. “That means that it falls within Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination, if it affects employment in one of the specified ways.”

Wood also relies heavily on the reasoning in the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Loving v. Virginia, which struck down bans on interracial marriage and served as a basis for the court’s ruling in favor of marriage equality in 2015.

“Changing the race of one partner made a difference in determining the legality of the conduct, and so the law rested on distinctions drawn according to race, which were unjustifiable and racially discriminatory,” Wood writes. “So too, here. If we were to change the sex of one partner in a lesbian relationship, the outcome would be different. This reveals that the discrimination rests on distinctions drawn according to sex.”

Wood cautions the ruling “decided only the issue put before us” and not, for example, whether Ivy Tech is a religious institution and therefore entitled to the religious exemption under Title VII, nor the legality of anti-gay discrimination “in the context of the provision of social or public services.”

“We hold only that a person who alleges that she experienced employment dis- crimination on the basis of her sexual orientation has put forth a case of sex discrimination for Title VII purposes,” Wood concludes. “It was therefore wrong to dismiss Hively’s complaint for failure to state a claim.”

In a new trend, a number of district courts have begun to rule anti-gay discrimination violates federal laws against sex discrimination, but federal appeals courts — including the 11th Circuit and the 2nd Circuit — had continued to reject that interpretation of Title VII until now. The 7th Circuit ruling marks the first time a federal court has reached that conclusion after decades of gay, lesbian and bisexual plaintiffs filing complaints before federal courts under that law.

The ruling reverses and remands the lower court ruling in the case, which was filed in 2014 by Kimberly Hively against her former employer, the Indiana-based Ivy Tech Community College, where she worked as a part-time professor. The lawsuit alleged the school violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by denying Hively full-time employment and promotions because she’s a lesbian.

Echoing Wood in a concurring decision is U.S. Circuit Judge Richard Posner, who was responsible for the 7th Circuit’s decision in favor of marriage equality in 2015 and opined in this case changing attitudes toward sex and gender call for a new interpretation of Title VII.

“The position of a woman discriminated against on account of being a lesbian is thus analogous to a woman’s being discriminated against on account of being a woman,” Posner writes. “That woman didn’t choose to be a woman; the lesbian didn’t choose to be a lesbian. I don’t see why firing a lesbian because she is in the subset of women who are lesbian should be thought any less a form of sex discrimination than firing a woman because she’s a woman.”

But Posner cautioned against basing the decision on Supreme Court precedent prohibiting gender stereotyping in Oncale, which he wrote is “rather evasive,” or Loving, which he said was a constitutional case based on race and “had nothing to do with the recently enacted Title VII.”

Despite criticism of the judiciary for allegedly interpreting the law in ways inconsistent with the intentions of Congress, Posner writes that’s not a problem because he says courts do it “fairly frequently to avoid statutory obsolescence and concomitantly to avoid placing the entire burden of updating old statutes on the legislative branch.”

Also writing a concurring opinion was U.S. Circuit Judge Joel Flaum, a Reagan-appointed judge who writes that sexual orientation discrimination constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII without any need to reinterpret the law.

“So if discriminating against an employee because she is homosexual is equivalent to discriminating against her because she is (A) a woman who is (B) sexually attracted to women, then it is motivated, in part, by an enumerated trait: The employee’s sex,” Flaum writes. “That is all an employee must show to successfully allege a Title VII claim.”

Writing the dissent in the case was U.S. Circuit Judge Diane Sykes, a George W. Bush-appointed judge who writes the majority “deploys a judge-empowering, common-law decision method that leaves a great deal of room for judicial discretion.”

“Respect for the constraints imposed on the judiciary by a system of written law must begin with fidelity to the traditional first principle of statutory interpretation: When a statute supplies the rule of decision, our role is to give effect to the enacted text, interpreting the statutory language as a reasonable person would have understood it at the time of enactment,” Sykes writes. “We are not authorized to infuse the text with a new or unconventional meaning or to update it to respond to changed social, economic, or political conditions.”

Sykes was on the list of judges from which President Trump said during his campaign he’d make appointments to the U.S. Supreme Court and reportedly was one of the three picks on the short list for the late U.S. Associate Justice Antonin Scalia’s seat before Trump nominated U.S. Circuit Judge Neil Gorsuch.

The decision was a source of joy for LGBT rights supporters, who for decades have made a priority of protecting LGBT workers from discrimination.

Greg Nevins, employment fairness program director for Lambda Legal and attorney for the plaintiff, said in a statement the decision is a “gamechanger” for gay people facing workplace discrimination and “sends a clear message to employers: It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”

“In many cities and states across the country, lesbian and gay workers are being fired because of who they love,” Nevins said. “But, with this decision, federal law is catching up to public opinion: ninety-percent of Americans already believe that LGBT employees should be valued for how well they do their jobs—not who they love or who they are. Now, through this case and others, that principle is backed up by the courts.”

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the U.S. agency charged with enforcing federal employment civil rights law, determined in its 2015 decision in the case of Baldwin v. Foxx that discrimination against workers for being gay, lesbian or bisexual violates Title VII.

Chad Feldblum, a lesbian and commissioner of the EEOC, said in reaction to the Hively ruling she hopes the decision will serve as model for outside the 7th Circuit in sexual-orientation discrimination cases.

“I am gratified to see that the Seventh Circuit has adopted the simple logic that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and I hope its reasoning can serve as a model for other courts,” Feldblum said.

The 7th Circuit is composed of Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. Wisconsin and Illinois already had state laws against sexual-orientation discrimination in employment, but the ruling assures for the first-time gay, lesbian and bisexual workers have recourse if they face discrimination in Indiana.

Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, said the decision “opens the door to a new era for LGBTQ plaintiffs under federal sex discrimination law.”

“With this historic decision, the 7th Circuit is the first federal appellate court to acknowledge that discrimination because a person is gay, lesbian or bisexual can only reasonably be understood as discrimination based on sex,” Minter said. “The court deserves credit for rejecting the tortured rationales of older decisions and undertaking a principled analysis, based on the Supreme Court’s affirmation in Price Waterhouse and other cases, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must be broadly construed to prohibit the full range of sex-based discrimination.”

Although Ivy Tech Community College could file a petition for certiorari to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse the 7th Circuit decision, the school has indicated it won’t pursue that route.

“Ivy Tech Community College rejects discrimination of all types, sexual-orientation discrimination is specifically barred by our policies,” said Jeff Fanter, an Ivy Tech spokesperson. “Ivy Tech respects and appreciates the opinions rendered by the judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and does not intend to seek Supreme Court review. The college denies that it discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of her sex or sexual orientation and will defend the plaintiff’s claims on the merits in the trial court.”

With the 7th Circuit decision, workplace protections for gay, lesbian and bisexual people are catching up to those of transgender people. For years, federal appeals courts have determined discrimination against workers for being transgender amounts to sex discrimination under Title VII, but haven’t done so for sexual orientation discrimination. In 2012, the U.S. EEOC affirmed anti-trans discrimination is unlawful under Title VII in the case of Macy v. Holder.

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Sage

    April 4, 2017 at 8:07 pm

    When we stand together, we the people can do anything, because we are we the people.

  2. lnm3921

    April 4, 2017 at 11:01 pm

    Well, this likely will reach the SCOTUS at some point just like the question of whether religious liberty can “trump” anti-discrimination laws. The battle is unfortunately far from over. But this is a good start.

    Again, the courts have been our best hope for equality. The GOP controlled Congress and the Trump Administration cannot be relied upon. In particular in employment matters, I doubt that Trump would side with employees!

    Trump is an opportunist wanting more a win at any costs to point to than supporting what is right. Look how he’s working with the devil of the So-called Freedom Caucus to deny people healthcare that includes pre-existing conditions, emergency room access or covered check ups! It’s Wrong and obnoxious and what you can expect from Conservatives! Callous and selfish as always!

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Utah

VIDEO: Utah deal promoted as national model for LGBTQ rights, religious liberty

Data finds state has 2nd highest support for LGBTQ rights

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(Screen capture via YouTube)

A new video from the premier LGBTQ group in Utah, challenging the idea LGBTQ rights must be at odds with religious liberty, promotes an agreement reached in the state as a potential model to achieve a long sought-after update to civil rights law at the federal level.

The video, published Friday by Equality Utah, focuses on a 2015 agreement in Utah between the supporters of LGBTQ rights and the Mormon Church to enact a compromise acceptable to both sides. The agreement by those two sides led to an LGBTQ civil rights law in the state, which has Republican control of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, says in the video dialogue is key to achieving meaningful success, whether its among the people of Utah, a state legislature or lawmakers in Congress.

“When you are working with LGBT rights in a state like Utah, and you want to advance legal equality, you can’t do it without working with Republicans, with conservative, with people of faith,” Williams says.

Williams, speaking with the Washington Blade over a Zoom call, said the main audience for the video is people on “the center right and the center left” willing to listen to other side when it comes to LGBTQ rights and religious liberty.

“People that have the courage to reach out to each other, and sit down across from each other and say, ‘Hey look, let’s hammer this out,” Williams said. “That’s who my audience is.”

Not only did Utah enact non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people, but the state under a Republican governor administratively banned widely discredited conversion therapy for youth. When lawmakers proposed legislation that would ban transgender youth from competing in school sports, the proposal was scuttled when Gov. Spencer Cox (whom Williams called a “super Mormon”) said he’d veto it after it came to his desk.

Marina Gomberg, a former board for Equality Utah, is another voice in the video seeking dispel the narrative religious liberty and LGBTQ rights are in conflict.

“in order to protect LGBTQ people, we don have to deny religious liberty, and in order to provide protections for religious liberties, we don’t have to deny LGBTQ people,” Gomberg says. “The idea that we do is a fallacy that Utah has dismantled.”

In July, new polling demonstrated the surprisingly the Utah, despite being a conservative state, has the second highest percentage of state population in support for non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. The data Public Religion Research Institute from 77 percent of Utah residents support LGBTQ people, which is just behind New Hampshire at 81 percent.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the pro-LGBTQ American Unity Fund, said the Utah agreement demonstrates the possibility of reaching an agreement at the federal level once “second order” issues are put into perspective.

“The first order question has to be how are we winning the culture,” Deaton said. “Do people even want to pass the bill? And if they do, you then figure out the details.”

The American Unity Fund has helped promote as a path forward for LGBTQ non-discrimination at the federal level the Fairness for For All Act, legislation seeking to reach a middle ground on LGBTQ rights and religious freedom. Polling earlier this year found 57 percent of the American public back a bipartisan solution in Congress to advance LGBTQ civil rights.

Supporters of the Equality Act, the more established vehicle for LGBTQ rights before Congress, say the Fairness for For All Act would give too many carve-out for LGBTQ rights in the name of religious freedom. The Equality Act, however, is all but dead in Congress and has shown no movement in the U.S. Senate.

Skeptics of the Utah law would point out the law doesn’t address public accommodations, one of the more challenging aspects in the fight for LGBTQ rights and one or remaining gaps in civil rights protections for LGBTQ people in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County. As a result, it’s perfectly legal in Utah for a business owner to discriminate against LGBTQ coming as patrons.

Williams, however, shrugged off the idea the lack of public accommodations protections in Utah make the agreement in the state makes it any less of a model, making the case the spirit behind the deal is what matters.

“I think copying and pasting Utah’s law doesn’t work for lots of reasons,” Wililams said. “What’s most important is a model of collaboration because when you are sitting around the table with each other — Democrats and Republicans, LGBTQ people and people of faith — that’s when the transformation happens. That is when the mutual respect is really forged.”

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Venezuelan man with AIDS dies in ICE custody

Pablo Sánchez Gotopo passed away at Miss. hospital on Oct. 1

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Pablo Sanchez Gotopo, who was living with HIV/AIDS, died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in Mississippi on Oct. 1, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

A Venezuelan man with AIDS died in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody on Oct. 1.

An ICE press release notes Pablo Sánchez Gotopo, 40, died at Merit Health River Oaks in Flowood, Miss., which is a suburb of Jackson, the state capital. The press release notes the “preliminary cause of death was from complications with acute respiratory failure, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), pneumonia, acute kidney failure, anemia and COVID-19.”

ICE said U.S. Border Patrol took Sánchez into custody near Del Rio, Texas, on May 17. He arrived at the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss., four days later.

“Upon arrival to an ICE facility, all detainees are medically screened and administered a COVID-19 test by ICE Health Service Corps (IHSC) personnel,” said ICE in its press release. “Sánchez’s test results came back negative.”

The press release notes Sánchez on July 28 received another COVID-19 test after he “began showing symptoms of COVID-19.” ICE said he tested negative, but Adams County Detention Center personnel transferred him to a Natchez hospital “for additional advanced medical care.”

ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations staff in its New Orleans Field Office, according to the press release, “coordinated with hospital staff to arrange family visitation” after Sánchez’s “health condition deteriorated.” Sánchez was transferred to Merit Health River Oaks on Sept. 25.

“ICE is firmly committed to the health and welfare of all those in its custody and is undertaking a comprehensive agency-wide review of this incident, as it does in all such cases,” says the press release.

Venezuela’s political and economic crises have prompted more than 10,000 people with HIV to leave the country, according to the New York-based Aid for AIDS International.

Activists and health care service providers in Venezuela with whom the Washington Blade has spoken in recent years have said people with HIV/AIDS in the country have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs. Andrés Cardona, director of Fundación Ancla, a group in the Colombian city of Medellín that works with migrants and other vulnerable groups, told the Blade last month that many Venezuelans with HIV would have died if they hadn’t come to Colombia.

The Blade has not been able to verify a Venezuelan activist’s claim that Sánchez was gay. It is also not known why Sánchez decided to leave Venezuela and travel to the U.S.

ICE detainee with HIV described Miss. detention center as ‘not safe’

Activists and members of Congress continue to demand ICE release people with HIV/AIDS in their custody amid reports they don’t have adequate access to medications and other necessary medical treatment.

Two trans women with HIV—Victoria Arellano from Mexico and Roxsana Hernández from Honduras—died in ICE custody in 2007 and 2018 respectively. Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, a trans woman with HIV who fled El Salvador, died in 2019, three days after ICE released her from a privately-run detention center.

The Blade in July 2020 interviewed a person with HIV who was in ICE custody at the Adams County Detention Center. The detainee said there was no social distancing at the privately-run facility and personnel were not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 from spreading.

“It’s not safe,” they told the Blade.

The entrance to the Adams County Detention Center in Natchez, Miss. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Elisabeth Grant-Gibson, a Natchez resident who supports ICE detainees and their families, on Wednesday told the Blade that she was able to visit the Adams County Detention Center and other ICE facilities in the Miss Lou Region of Mississippi and Louisiana from November 2019 until the suspension of in-person visitation in March 2020 because of the pandemic.

“Medical neglect and refusal of medical care has always been an issue in the detention center at Adams County,” said Grant-Gibson. “After the facilities were closed to public visitation, those problems increased.”

Grant-Gibson told the Blade she “worked with a number of families and received phone calls from a number of detainees, and I was told again and again that detainees were being refused the opportunity to visit the infirmary.”

“When they did visit the infirmary, they were given virtually no treatment for the issues they were presenting with,” said Grant-Gibson.

ICE in its press release that announced Sánchez’s death said fatalities among its detainees, “statistically, are exceedingly rare and occur at a fraction of the national average for the U.S. detained population.” ICE also noted it spends more than $315 million a year “on the spectrum of healthcare services provided to detainees.”

“ICE’s Health Service Corps (IHSC) ensures the provision of necessary medical care services as required by ICE Performance-Based National Detention Standards and based on the medical needs of the detainee,” notes the ICE press release. “Comprehensive medical care is provided from the moment detainees arrive and throughout the entirety of their stay. All ICE detainees receive medical, dental, and mental health intake screening within 12 hours of arriving at each detention facility, a full health assessment within 14 days of entering ICE custody or arrival at a facility, and access to daily sick call and 24-hour emergency care.”

An ICE spokesperson on Wednesday pointed the Blade to its Performance-Based Detention Standards from 2011, which includes policies for the treatment of detainees with HIV/AIDS.

A detainee “may request HIV testing at any time during detention” and ICE detention centers “shall develop a written plan to ensure the highest degree of confidentiality regarding HIV status and medical condition.” The policy also states that “staff training must emphasize the need for confidentiality, and procedures must be in place to limit access to health records to only authorized individuals and only when necessary.”

“The accurate diagnosis and medical management of HIV infection among detainees shall be promoted,” reads the policy. “An HIV diagnosis may be made only by a licensed health care provider, based on a medical history, current clinical evaluation of signs and symptoms and laboratory studies.”

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Rachel Levine on becoming four-star admiral: ‘It comes from my desire to serve’

Trans official sworn-in to U.S. Public Health Service

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For Rachel Levine, the appointment to her new role as a four-star admiral complementing her existing duties as assistant secretary for health is another way for the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed presidential appointee to serve.

“I think that this just really comes from my desire to serve in all capacities,” Levine said in an interview Tuesday with the Washington Blade. “To serve the first day in my field of academic medicine and pediatrics, but then in Pennsylvania and now in the federal government, and it furthers my ability to do that.”

Levine, 63, also recognized the importance of the appointment as a transgender person within the U.S. Public Health Service, for which she was ceremonially sworn in on Tuesday

“I think for the LGBTQ+ community, it is a further sign of progress and our president’s commitment to equity, to inclusion and diversity,” Levine said. “So I think that it is a very important milestone, and I’m pleased to serve.”

As part of her duties, Levine will lead an estimated 6,000 public health service officers serving vulnerable populations, including deployments inside and outside the country for communities beleaguered with the coronavirus, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. The role involves working closely with U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murphy, whom Levine called her “friend and colleague.”

The U.S. Public Health Service, Levine said, has deployed “many, many times,” including its greatest number ever of deployments to vulnerable populations during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the places the service has deployed, Levine said, was in her home state of Pennsylvania, where she recently served as secretary of health.

Not only is Levine the first openly transgender person to serve in the uniformed health service as a four-star general, but she’s also the first woman to serve in that capacity.

“We have 6,000 dedicated committed public servants really all focused on our nation’s health, and they serve in details to the CDC and the FDA and the NIH, but also clinically with the Indian Health Service, and the federal prison system,” Levine said. “They’re also detailed and deployed throughout the country, and they deployed like never before for COVID-19 as well as the border, as well as dealing with floods and hurricanes and tornadoes.”

Although the Public Health Service is primarily focused on addressing public health disasters within the United States, Levine said it has a record of deployments overseas, including years ago when it was deployed to Africa under the threat of Ebola.

Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra had high praise for Levine in a statement upon news of taking on a leadership position in the service.

“This is a proud moment for us at HHS,” Becerra said. “Adm. Levine — a highly accomplished pediatrician who helps drive our agency’s agenda to boost health access and equity and to strengthen behavioral health — is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”

Levine, however, was careful to draw a distinction between her appointment within the Public Health Service and being a service member within the U.S. armed forces.

“It is not a military branch, it’s not the armed forces: It’s a uniformed force, so it’s different,” Levine said. “For example, the Army, the Navy, our military, there are two other uniformed branches, and that is ours, the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and NOAA.”

The new role, Levine said, would complement her duties as assistant secretary for health. Although not only secretaries of health have been commissioned to take the uniform, Levine said she wanted to undertake that as part of her role in the Biden administration.

The two appointments were not simultaneous, Levine said, because of a general process she undertook, which was completed just this week.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Levine. During her Senate confirmation process, when she was hounded by anti-transgender attacks in conservative media and rude, invasive questioning by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) on her gender identity.

Levine, however, said she hasn’t encountered any hostility regarding her new role (as of now) and shrugged off any potential attacks in the future and said the move is about her career “to serve and to help people.”

“I’ve continued that for our nation as the assistant secretary for health and this is just a further demonstration of my commitment to service,” Levine said. “I don’t know what others will say, but that’s the genesis of my wanting to serve in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps, and to place on the uniform.”

Levine’s new appointment comes shortly after a group of Democratic senators led by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent her a letter dated Sept. 30 calling on her and Miriam Delphin-Rittmon, assistant secretary for mental health and substance use, to issue new guidance for hospital or residential care on mental health needs of transgender people.

Asked about the letter, Levine said mental health issues are under the authority of Delphin-Rittmon and the two “will work together and we will respond.”

Specifically, the senators in the letter call on the Behavioral Health Coordinating Council, or BHCC, and experts in the field of adolescent trans care to offer guidance on best practices for inpatient mental health care among these youth.

Asked what the response will look like, Levine said, “We’re going to work on that.”

“We will be looking at what they’re asking for and the requirements, and we’ll talk with them and the stakeholders and we’ll look to issue appropriate guidance,” Levine said.

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