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Supreme Court to hear cases on LGBT discrimination

For LGBT workers in New York, the news that the U.S. Supreme Court is taking up several cases on workplace discrimination could be an opportunity or a threat. While many states and municipalities provide protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, the interpretation of federal civil rights law is an ongoing battle. The protections that LGBT workers rely upon in many areas hang in the balance.

The nation's highest court announced that it would hear several cases related to workplace discrimination against LGBT people, including cases from gay or lesbian workers who say they were fired due to their sexual orientation and a case filed by a transgender funeral home worker who was dismissed after she announced her plans to transition to live as a woman. The legal issue in the cases is the interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination. The language of the law does not mention gender identity or sexual orientation, but various federal appeals court have interpreted the clause in an inclusive manner.

The Department of Justice backed that interpretation under the Obama administration, supporting the decisions of the appeals courts in the relevant cases. However, under the Trump administration, the DOJ has reversed its former position. It now argues that Title VII should not be interpreted to include protection for LGBT workers as part of its prohibition of sex discrimination. Many are concerned that the more conservative court with newer Trump appointees might side with the administration.

There are also a number of state and municipal laws that provide various protections to workers facing mistreatment, harassment, or discrimination on the job. People who have been the victims of workplace discrimination can consult with a lawyer about their options.

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