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Local groups, experts praise pro-LGBTQ SCOTUS ruling
by Matt Simonette
2020-06-15

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Local organizations and legal professionals reacted enthusiastically to the landmark June 15 decision declaring that LGBT Americans are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, essentially granting them the right to sue in incidents of employment discrimination.

The six-to-three ruling is especially notable comes from an increasingly conservative court. The majority opinion was authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, an appointee of President Donald Trump. He was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagen. The ruling applies to employment-discrimination cases.

In a June 15 press conference, John Knight of ACLU of Illinois, who helped argue one of the three pertinent cases on behalf of client Aimee Stephens, "called the decision a "huge victory" and noted that trans women have especially been contending with such discrimination for years.

Stephens, who passed away in May 2020, was fired from her position at a Michigan funeral home after coming out as transgender in 2013.

"It is sad that my client, Aimee Stephens, is not here to see the fruit of this victory," Knight added. "It has been a very long fight."

Illinois has robust anti-discrimination laws, but the ruling is significant for the state nonetheless, he said.

"Federal protections are crucial for us—they help us in various ways that state protections do not," he noted. "It's certainly important to have the full range of protections. The bottom line is that this is sex-discrimination. It's a simple decision in that the Court has recognized what we've known for many years."

At this point, the case would likely go back to the district court that heard it originally and be tried for damages, Knight said.

Attorney Betty Tsamis, who now resides in Arizona but has a long history of litigating anti-LGBT discrimination cases in Chicago, said that she was "elated" both by the decision and that Gorsuch was the author.

"I believe that this was a long time coming, and also believe that the Supreme Court has resolved a majority of the anti-LGBT job-discrimination cases in the United States," Tsamis added. " … I honestly did not think I would see LGBT protections under Title VII in my lifetime."

Tsamis noted that much work remains in terms of ensuring LGBT Americans' work protections; lawmakers at the federal and state need to pass legislation ensuring discrimination doesn't happen in the first place.

"A legal ruling sent out from the highest court in the land [nevertheless] sends a very strong message," said Tsamis.

Knight indeed noted that the decision, however promising, still left "considerable gaps" in preventing discrimination in the first place, and that legislation such as the Equality Act is still vitally important for the community.

Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, said in a June 15 press release, "Today, the law, justice and fairness are on our side. Our nation's highest court confirmed what Lambda Legal has argued for years, that discrimination against LGBTQ workers is illegal. We have a long way to go in securing the full and undeniable civil rights of LGBTQ people, especially those in our community who are Black, Indigenous and people of color for whom their sexual orientation or gender identity is only one of many barriers to equal opportunity in this country. But today's victory is a necessary step forward on the journey toward equal justice for all without caveats or qualifications."

In a press release, U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley said, "To LGBTQ Illinoisans and the LGBTQ community across the country—congratulations on this tremendous achievement. I stay with you in the ongoing fight and I won't rest until no one faces bigotry based on who they love or how they identify."

"Today's decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that LGBTQ people across America are protected by the federal employment non-discrimination law is significant and encouraging," Equality Illinois said in a separate statement. "Through the Illinois Human Rights Act, Illinois has had workplace non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people since 2006. We are pleased such protections apply to all LGBTQ Illinoisans regardless of where they may work. Make no mistake: Our work as a state and as a country is not done.

"We must address anti-LGBTQ discrimination in all areas of life, just as the Illinois Human Rights Act already does. That's why we urge the U.S. Senate to follow the U.S. House's lead and pass the Equality Act.

"At the same time we are encouraged by today's decisions, we know Illinois and America must address and dismantle the racist policies and enforcement of laws that harm and target Black Americans, including Black LGBTQ people. That work must take place at all levels of government.

"This is not the end of our fight," said Knight.


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