This Week in Nondiscrimination: NJ Grows More Welcoming, Continued Celebration in NH, and Movement in Legal Cases

By Shane Stahl • June 1, 2018 • 3:45 pm

This week in LGBTQ nondiscrimination, we saw New Jersey take steps to become one of the most transgender-inclusive states in the country and Freedom New Hampshire celebrating the success of its campaign manager. Additionally, legal teams in two court cases dealing with employment discrimination filed petitions for review from the U.S. Supreme Court, and conservatives in Michigan began exploring possible legal options to oppose a recent pro-LGBTQ decision by that state’s Civil Rights Commission to interpret civil rights law to protect people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Read through what you might have missed during this final week of May 2018.

MASSACHUSETTS

Freedom For All Massachusetts, the campaign to defend existing transgender nondiscrimination protections at the ballot this November, received an important endorsement this week with Boston Children’s Hospital announcing their support of the campaign.

Jeremi Caldwell, M.D., the director of the hospital’s Gender Management Service, said in a statement:

“At Boston Children’s, we are committed to providing comprehensive and affirming treatment to our LGBTQ+ patients and families. We are proud to​ stand with Freedom for All Massachusetts to defend dignity and respect for transgender people across the Commonwealth. As the largest freestanding acute pediatric hospital in the state and large employer, we are committed to protecting the wellbeing of all children, families, and staff in our community and to creating a safe, welcoming and respectful environment for all who come through our doors.”

Boston Children’s Hospital has consistently been ranked among the top children’s healthcare facilities by U.S. News and World Report, and is the largest pediatric hospital in the state.

The hospital also provides a unique program for children experiencing issues regarding gender identity. The Gender Management Service program (GeMS) specializes in providing comprehensive care to transgender and gender nonconforming children. Multiple departments coordinate with families to consult, answer questions, and provide services and solutions to best treat these children and adolescents and support their medical and emotional needs.

Boston Children’s joins many other health groups who have already signed on to the coalition, including the Cambridge Health Alliance, Athena Health, and Fenway Health,

NEW HAMPSHIRE

While HB 1319 — the bill enacting statewide comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for transgender people — still awaits the signature of Governor Chris Sununu, Freedom New Hampshire, the campaign that helped shepherd the bill through the legislature over the course of nearly three years, is taking time to celebrate the accomplishments of Campaign Manager Linds Jakows, who led the campaign the victory this year after having taken the position in late 2016.

Under Jakows’ leadership, FNH saw continual growth of their coalition, ranging from business owners and faith leaders to conservatives and safety advocates. Jakows helped institute innovative events such as public panels titled “Ask a Trans Person Anything,” which legislators and community members attended in order to learn more about transgender people and the issues they encountered without protections under the law.

Jakows plans to continue working in advocacy, and the entire Freedom For All Americans team congratulates them on their incredible effort and success.

NEW YORK

A petition for review before the Supreme Court of the United States, concerning a case decided in February by the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, was filed in New York this week, seeking to overturn the circuit court’s recent decision, which was in favor of employment protections from discrimination based on sexual orientaiton.

The petition was filed in Zarda v. Altitude Express. In a decisive en banc decision, the judges officially recognized that discrimination based on sexual orientation constitutes “sex discrimination” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case was brought forward by private attorney Gregory Antollino. The case centered on plaintiff Don Zarda, a skydiving instructor who was fired for being gay. Don was fired from his job after disclosing to a female customer that he is gay in an effort to appease her potential discomfort over close contact during a tandem skydive. When the customer’s boyfriend complained to his employer, Altitude Express Inc. in Long Island, NY, the company subsequently reprimanded Zarda for sharing “personal information” about his “escapades” – a condescending allusion to a common gay stereotype.

The employer in the case, Altitude Express, filed its petition for review this week.

GEORGIA

Another petition for review in a similar employment case was filed in Georgia this week, this time from the case’s plaintiff, whose claim of employment discrimination has been denied by both a District Court and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Gerald Lynn Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia was decided by a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on May 10, 2018. In the decision, the panel wrote, “Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sex. This circuit has previously held that ‘[d]ischarge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.’” The panel refers to a precedent set in 1979, Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp, and Lambda Legal’s Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, the case of Jameka Evans, a Georgia security guard who was fired for being lesbian.

In both the New York and Georgia cases, conference among the Justices will likely occur in fall 2018 on whether or not to grant review to one or more of the cases.

MICHIGAN

On the heels of a decision from the Michigan Civil Rights Commission last week, interpreting the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to apply to discrimination claims involving sexual orientation and gender identity, opponents of LGBTQ equal treatment are soon meeting to determine whether or not to take this issue to court, claiming the decision is an abuse of power.

Attorney David Kallman with the Great Lakes Justice Center, an extremist legal group based in Lansing, called the Commission’s ruling a “clear violation of the separation of powers” between branches of state government, arguing that the decision changes state law.

The group may seek to file an injunction against the Commission, or take the issue to Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette. Schuette’s office previously stated that the Commission does not have the power to reinterpret the legislation.

Freedom For All Americans CEO Masen Davis said in a statement after the interpretation was issued by the Civil Rights Commission: “Today’s vote makes it just a little easier for LGBTQ people in the Great Lakes State to live and work with dignity and respect,” he said in a press release. “But our work isn’t finished—we must continue working together to update Michigan’s state law so that all LGBTQ residents are fully and explicitly protected from discrimination.”

NEW JERSEY

The Garden State has become one of the most progressive in the arena of equal protections for transgender people with the passage of a package of bills this past week that await Governor Phil Murphy’s signature.

Chief among the bills was legislation that allows transgender people to request corrected birth certificates without the requirement of gender confirmation surgery. A similar bill in the package also included the same provision for death certificates.

“Pieces of paper and documentation doesn’t dictate who we are as individuals. Who we are as a people dictates what’s on those papers,” said Christian Fuscarino, executive director of Garden State Equality, which has been working hard to advance LGBTQ equal treatment statewide. “So the law wasn’t right before. It’s been corrected and now it’s the way it should be.”

The final bill in the package creates a Transgender Equality Task Force, which will review state policies and programs. This bill had been vetoed twice by previous governor Chris Christie. In a statement, Governor Murphy’s spokesperson said, “The governor looks forward to working with the legislature to make sure that no New Jersey resident is impacted by discriminatory practices.”


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