LGBT employment cases on road to Supreme Court

A new genre of employment discrimination cases that could be the next battleground for supporters of LGBT rights is hurtling towards the Supreme Court.

More than two years after the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage nationwide, plaintiffs want the justices to enable employees to use existing civil rights law to sue for discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

On Tuesday, a federal appeals court based in New York will hear arguments in one such case, and later this fall the Supreme Court will consider whether to take up a separate challenge. 

At the heart of the cases are whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that bans employment discrimination because of sex, also protects claims of sexual orientation. In an unusual twist in the case, the Trump administration is on opposite sides from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission — a federal agency charged with enforcing Title VII.

Joshua Matz, a lawyer who has written about the issue for the Take Care law blog, said the Supreme Court will likely take up the issue. “It’s a matter of national importance, affecting employees and employers from every walk of life,” he said.  

Most courts have rebuffed such challenges over the years, but last April, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals broke new ground when Judge Diane Wood, a Clinton appointee writing for the majority, allowed a claim from Kimberly Hively to go forward. Hively sought to sue Ivy Tech Community College arguing that the school violated Title VII when it denied her employment based on her sexual orientation.  

“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 wrote. “That means that it falls within Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination, if it affects employment in one of the specified ways.”

In short, Wood held that claims of sexual discrimination encompass claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation because similarly situated people are treated differently solely on account of their sex.  

“For instance,” said Matz,”if an employer fires a female employee because she is married to a woman, but would not fire an otherwise identical male employee married to a woman, the employee’s sex is properly seen as having caused the termination.” 

Supporters of LGBT rights call the 7th Circuit opinion a landmark decision, but critics say that that the law was not written to provide a remedy for claims of sexual orientation.  

“The two traits are categorically distinct,” wrote Judge Diane Sykes in a dissent. 

Hively’s employers have decided not to appeal the case, so it will remain on the books. But two other cases are moving forward. 

Lawyers for Jameka Evans, a security guard who claims her employer, a hospital, violated Title VII by discriminating against her because of her sexual orientation lost her fight in the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals and her lawyers are asking the Supreme Court to take up her appeal.

Separately, on Tuesday, the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals will hear a claim brought by the estate of Donald Zarda. Zarda, a skydiving instructor, died before trial, but his estate has continued his suit.  

The case stems back from 2010 when Zarda was an Altitude Express instructor for Rosanna Orellana. Zarda’s role was to be tied to the back of Orellana, deploy the parachute and supervise the jump. According to court papers, at some point Zarda informed Orellana that he was gay. After the jump, Orellana’s boyfriend learned that Zarda had disclosed his sexual orientation and called Altitude Express with various complaints about Zarda’s behavior. Zarda was fired.

The company contended that Zarda was fired for failing to provide an enjoyable experience to customers. Zarda asserted that his actions were appropriate and he was fired because of his sexuality — he filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

The case is in an unusual position as the EEOC supports Zarda, while the Justice Department is on the other side.

“The EEOC is not speaking for the United States,” DOJ lawyers say in their brief. They stress that Congress did not mean Title VII to extend to claims of sexual orientations. 

Coming more than two years after the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage, government lawyers note “to be sure” there have been “notable changes in societal and cultural attitudes about such discrimination” but they insist that Congress has “consistently” declined to amend Title VII in light of those changes. 

They say that even changes in societal attitudes “do not present courts with a license to rewrite a constitutionally valid statutory text under the banner of speculation about what Congress might have done to implement a clear statute’s policy objectives. “

Lawyer Gregory Antollino and the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal will argue in support of Zarda’s estate.

“If you discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, you necessarily take into account the sex of the employee,” said Antollino. “You can’t take the ‘sex’ out of “sexual orientation.”

Mandatory evacuations ordered as S. California fire spreads

A fire in Southern California, which spread to more than 1,700 acres, prompted mandatory evacuations Monday night as at least one structure was damaged or destroyed, according to the Orange County Fire Authority.

The wildfire — called Canyon Fire — started Monday around 1 p.m., near the 91 freeway and near the border between the cities of Anaheim and Corona.

The Corona Fire Department on Monday night tweeted that the fire was up to 2,000 acres and 5% contained.

As of 9 p.m. local time, the Orange County Fire Authority reported no injuries and that multiple structures were threatened in Corona. Four schools in Corona will be closed Tuesday due to the fire, evacuations, road closures and poor air quality, according to the Corona Norco Unified School District.

Mandatory evacuations went into effect for parts of Corona and the announcement from the loud speaker of a police car blared: “It’s time to go,” as shown by CNN affiliate KCBS.

Corona High School’s gym opened as the local evacuation shelter.

Fueled by dry conditions, shifting winds and flying embers, the fire fanned in different directions throughout the day.

More than 300 firefighters were working to contain the fire and save people’s homes.

The blaze burned near the 91 freeway as commuters sat in traffic.

Several lanes were closed, snarling traffic on the often-congested 91, along with other nearby roads Monday.

The Canyon Fire was described as a “vegetation fire” by the Orange County Fire Authority. The fire resulted in a smoke advisory for northern and central Orange County, and the cities of Corona and Norco, in Riverside County.

Mother, teen son shot in Miami

A mother and her teen son were shot Monday night in Miami, city police said. 

The woman was shot in the abdomen and her son was grazed by a bullet in the head at about 10 p.m. in the 1200 block of Northwest 25th Street, police said. 

The woman was taken to Jackson Memorial Hospital’s Ryder Trauma Center in critical condition, police said. The teen was taken to an area pediatric hospital. 

Further information was not immediately available. 


Navajo Nation President & Vice President Pay Tribute to Gold Star Mothers & Families

Published September 26, 2017   WINDOW ROCK – On Sunday, September 24, Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye and Vice President Jonathan Nez recognized and paid tribute to the families of fallen soldiers at a ceremony for Gold Star Mother’s and Family’s Day. “Our warriors will never be forgotten,” President Begaye said. “We honor their memory and the countless […]

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Mayfair Hotel doesn’t honor family’s post-Irma booking

After Hurricane Irma struck, Luis Cano and his family were without power.

Seven days passed and Cano decided it was time to check his family into a hotel that had power and air conditioning.

So he went to Expedia and found that the Mayfair Hotel in Coconut Grove was available.

“We went ahead and booked it,” Cano said. “Paid for it in full.”

Cano said despite the fact he had a paid reservation, when he went to check his family in, he was told unless he paid more, he couldn’t get a room.

“The lady behind the counter says, ‘Oh, you booked this through Expedia. We’re not honoring the Expedia bookings,'” Cano said. “She said that the general manager had decided not to honor the Expedia booking because they’re able to sell it for more money.'”

The catch was, there were rooms available at the hotel.

“We have plenty of rooms available, and if you want to pay the higher fee, we’ll give you one of those rooms,'” Cano said the woman told him.

Cano took his family, walked out and called Expedia. 

“Expedia was shocked,” he said. “Expedia tried to contacting the hotel multiple times.”

To get them a place to stay, Expedia found Cano and his family another hotel nearby.

In a statement to Local 10 News, a representative from Expedia said it was glad to help Cano in his time of need and is looking into the incident with the Mayfair Hotel.

As for the Mayfair, general manager Jim Mauer called the incident an “unfortunate mistake.” 

“He told us he was told if he paid more he could get a room,” Local 10 News investigative reporter Jeff Weinsier told Mauer.

“That is not the case. That is not the case,” Mauer said. “We had the same rate pre-storm. We had the same rate post-storm. We actually had a discounted rate for local Grove residents that were displaced.” 

“So what happened to him? We just interviewed him and his story is totally different that yours,” Weinsier said.

“Yeah, I haven’t spoken to him directly. We’ve been reaching out to him,” Mauer said. “That is not the case. It wasn’t a manager. It was a front line associate. … There’s a lot of service failures in here — ones we are correcting right now.” 

Mauer claims he didn’t want a situation where he was overbooked.

“We didn’t want to have an event where I have 179 rooms and 189 reservations,” he said.

Mauer said the employee has been disciplined and he has since called Cano to apologize.

Cano said what makes matters worse is that he and his wife, Teresa, stayed at the Mayfair on their wedding night 25 years ago, so the hotel has a special place in their hearts.

At least it did.

“To me, that’s just as low the looters that were trying to take advantage of the disaster stealing from people all over the neighborhoods,” he said.

Miramar residents concerned about sewage spill, water conditions after Irma

Angry and frustrated about water conditions Miramar residents gathered Monday on the banks of a canal at the Canalin Country Club Ranches.

Residents say the canal, which sits off Southwest 132nd Avenue and Miramar Parkway, has a high concentration of dangerous bacteria after a sewer line broke when a tree was knocked over during Hurricane Irma.

During the past two weeks, thousands of gallons of raw sewage have spilled into the canal.

Residents fear that the water from the canal may have spilled into their well water.

“We have well water and we have to drink it and bathe in it,” Gene Heagney said. 

Crews from the city were sent in last week to fix the ruptured line. 

The city said the water is safe and have distributed flyers containing test results to residents.

But several residents have commissioned their own tests by using an independent lab.

The result of those tests contradict the city’s results. City members were not present at Monday’s meeting. 

“It wasn’t a big surprise when we found out that as far as the canal is concerned ” Michael Kaufman said. “This is a very dangerous canal.” 

Residents are demanding a City Hall meeting in order to discuss those findings. 

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival Presenting Sponsor: Bell Media Announces A Wall is a Screen, Annual Art Crawl and Exhibitions

Published September 26, 2017 TORONTO – The imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival, October 18 – 22, 2017, is proud to announce this year’s visual arts programming including exhibitions, installations, interactive pieces and the annual Art Crawl. On Thursday, October 19, imagineNATIVE will present the internationally-celebrated A Wall is a Screen, an interactive nighttime event that is part-walking-tour and part-film-screening […]

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