Unions oppose discrimination against LGBTQ+ people

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

The nation’s largest unions and the nation’s largest labor federation both back outlawing employer discrimination against lesbian-gay-bisexual-transgender people – a ban bosses are challenging in top cases at the U.S. Supreme Court.

And the Oct. 8 argument over whether bosses can discriminate against LGBTQ people – including firing them – solely because of their sexual orientation or gender preference isn’t the only big-ticket civil rights case the justices will hear in the next six weeks.

The other will come up in early November, as Comcast challenges the wide-ranging ban on discrimination written into the Reconstruction Era’s 1866 Civil Rights Act and its famous Section 1981, which lets individuals and firms sue against business racism.

And in both instances, the GOP Donald Trump administration is arguing on the other side, for discrimination.

Both issues are important for the future of civil rights and human rights in the United States, which have been frequently under attack by Trump, right-wing Republicans and their ideological think tanks and, in the Section 1981 case, the corporate class.

The tangle over LGBTQ job discrimination will hit the High Court the day after it starts its 2019-20 term. Four separate lawsuits, consolidated into one long hearing, will force the justices to consider whether employers can discriminate against LGBTQ people.

That’s illegal under the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s ban, in its famous Title VII, on employment discrimination based on sex, according to the AFL-CIO, both big teachers’ unions, and a combined brief from the Service Employees International Union, the Teamsters and Jobs With Justice – along with other allies of LGBTQ people.

Title VII also bans discrimination based on race, color, religion or national origin.

The Section 1981 case will come up in November. It outlaws racial discrimination by businesses in making contracts.

Until now, courts inserted one big caveat into Section 1981 cases: What’s called a “but for” clause, meaning that “but for” specific circumstances – namely that but for the fact that the person hurt was African-American – the discrimination would not have occurred.

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco took away even that caveat and ruled the 1866 law means what it says and that victims only need to show race was “a factor” – not the factor – to get their day in court after firms didn’t do business with them.

Trump wants to limit Section 1981 again, and the Los Angeles Urban League, in a letter to Comcast’s CEO, says Trump wants to go even further and invalidate the whole section. It demands the CEO disavow his firm’s support for weakening or killing Section 1981.

In the October case, LGBTQ “members of AFL-CIO-affiliated unions…are entitled to” the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s “protections, either individually or through a collective bargaining agreement that expressly covers statutory discrimination claims,” federation counsel Matthew Ginsburg told the justices in the federation’s friend-of-the-court brief.

The Supreme Court, the federation reminded the justices, has long ruled firms guilty of sexual discrimination when they fire or discipline someone not only because of sex but because the worker apparently does not conform to “social or emotional traits” associated with a particular sex. In other words, when the worker doesn’t fit the boss’s stereotype.

“When an employer makes a decision based on an employee’s non-conformance” with the stereotypes, that’s discriminating based on sex, the labor federation says.

SEIU, the Teamsters and JWJ make the point that not only does the 1964 law ban job discrimination based on sex, but that bosses “in male-dominated professions” often break the law against women “through assertions about women’s gender orientation and sexual identity.”

“The specific experiences of women” in those majority-male professions “demonstrate the impossibility of separating sex-based discrimination from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity,” SEIU, the Teamsters and JWJ add.

The 1964 Civil Rights Act’s “plain text prohibits adverse employment action where the outcome would change with – because of – the employee’s sex,” the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers add in their brief. “Adverse action,” like firing, “because of gender status or sexual orientation” meets that standard for a ban, they say.

But the lawyers for the NEA, the AFT, the AFL-CIO, the SEIU, Jobs With Justice and the Teamsters won’t be in the courtroom telling the justices about their stands on Oct. 8. They did so in friend-of-the-court briefs. Trump Solicitor General Neal Francisco will speak to the court – and his brief says employment discrimination against LGBTQ people is OK.

“’Sex’ does not mean ‘sexual orientation,’” Francisco’s brief to the court on behalf of Trump, says. “Discrimination because of sexual orientation does not involve treating members of one sex less favorably than similarly situated members of the other.” And “discrimination because of sexual orientation does not constitute improper discrimination based on sex stereotyping,” the Trump Justice Department’s brief declares.

The Los Angeles Urban League blew the whistle on the second case, involving Section 1981 of the 1866 Civil Rights Act. The justices will tackle that issue on Nov. 13.

In a full-page ad in the Washington Post, L.A. Urban League President Michael Lawson told Comcast’s CEO the firm should not be trying to eviscerate Section 1981. That, Lawson says, is what both Comcast, which discriminated against the black-owned film company, and Trump urge.

The justices must “protect the rights of blacks and all Americans to do business without the vile presence of racism,” Lawson said. “Racism has no place in any contract negotiation. Once racism is present, it taints the entire negotiation and that taint cannot be cleansed by other supposed explanations.”

Comcast, Trump, and their allies, are trying “to gut the Civil Rights Act of 1866, specifically Section 1981, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and ethnicity when making and enforcing contracts,” Lawson said.

Comcast turned down a contract with Entertainment Studios, owned by Byron Allen, “based, at least in part, on the fact that Entertainment Studios is owned by an African- American,” Lawson said.

Allen is suing Comcast, citing Section 1981’s ban on discrimination in contracts. Comcast says it turned down Allen for legitimate programming reasons, including its customers’ demand for more sports programming.

“Comcast and the Department of Justice have asked the Supreme Court to condone the inclusion of racism as a legitimate basis for refusing to enter into a contract with an African-American so long as it is not the ‘only reason’ (his emphasis). We cannot condone Comcast’s attempt to eviscerate this important civil rights statute in order to legitimize their refusal to enter into a contract with Mr. Allen,” Lawson said.

If Comcast doesn’t reverse course, Lawson said, the L.A. Urban League may have no choice but to tell the rest of the country about it and urge a boycott of Comcast.

Trump’s Justice Department sided with Comcast, against Allen and his claim.

“The text of Section 1981 guarantees all persons have the same right to certain outcomes, including the right to make contracts,” Trump’s Justice Department says. “Because ‘making’ a contract means entering into a contract, a person does not enjoy ‘the same right’ guaranteed by Section 1981 if race prevents her from entering into a contract that a similarly situated white person would have entered. And the inverse is also true.”

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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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