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DOJ Asks Supreme Court to Rule Against Transgender Workplace Discrimination Protection

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  • The Department of Justice filed a brief on Friday asking the Supreme Court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect workplace discrimination on the basis of being transgender.
  • The DOJ filed the brief in response to a case against Harris Funeral Homes brought by Aimee Stephens, a transgender funeral director who says she was fired after coming out to her boss and saying she would wear a female uniform.
  • Harris Funeral Homes and the DOJ argue Title VII protects against discrimination based on biological sex only, while the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission says LGBTQ+ workers should be protected under sex-based discrimination.

DOJ Submits Brief Against Trans Protection

On Friday, the U.S. Department of Justice submitted a brief asking the Supreme Court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect transgender individuals in the workplace.

The brief comes in response to an upcoming case the Supreme Court will hear in October concerning a transgender funeral director who was fired after coming out to her boss in 2013.

Title VII protects workers from employment discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, and national origin.

While some argue sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under the term “sex,” the DOJ argued “sex” only refers to a person’s biological sex. It said when the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed, the interpretation rested on the basis of biological sex.

In the brief, the DOJ stated “[Title VII] simply does not speak to discrimination because of an individual’s gender identity or a disconnect between an individual’s gender identity and the individual’s sex.”

Instead, it argued Title VII prohibits discrimination of people in similar positions and of the opposite biological sex.

The DOJ asserted any changes in the law should be made through Congress, not through the judicial system. Currently, no federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination on the basis of being transgender; however, in 2017, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era policy that included LGBTQ+ identities in the “sex” category.

“While the issue that the Supreme Court took up is a narrow one, whether civil rights protections against ‘sex’ discrimination passed in 1964 should include ‘gender identity’ and transgender rights, it will have vast implications for religious groups,” said Craig Parshall, General Counsel for National Religious Broadcasters. “There is an increasing movement to force faith-based employers to bend to the newly-minted doctrine that a person’s subjective ideas of how they think of their own gender should always prevail, regardless of the religious conscience of employers, businesses, and ministries.”

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Campaign and the American Civil Liberties Union have condemned the action.

“The Trump-Pence administration’s filing today is both legally and morally unjustifiable,” said HRC Legal Director Sarah Warbelow in a Friday statement“Their argument is un-American, anti-business, and flies in the face of decades of federal case law, including established Supreme Court precedent. There can be no justification for such a narrow interpretation of the term ‘sex.’ Our community will not be silent, and we will not be erased.” 

R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes V. EEOC & Aimee Stephens

Aimee Stephens worked for R.G and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan as a funeral director from 2007 to 2013, presenting as a man for the six years of her employment.

In 2013, she decided to come out to her boss, Thomas Rost, in a letter where she stated she would begin wearing a woman’s uniform and start her transitioning process.

She said the decision came after many years of struggling to accept her identity. At one point in her life, she said she considered killing herself.

Though she said she hoped her job performance over the years would help ease her transition, she was fired soon after.

She then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which in turn, sued the funeral home for discrimination, sending the case to district court.

In court, the funeral home argued Stephens needed to wear a man’s uniform, saying that “[m]aintaining a professional dress code that is not distracting to grieving families is an essential industry requirement that furthers their healing process.”

Rost, who is a devout Christian, also said he does not believe people can change their gender and defended his firing of Stephens under the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The district ruled in favor of the funeral home on both points, concluding Title VII does not extend to discrimination on the basis of being transgender.

In 2018, Stephens and the EEOC appealed the case in circuit court, where it overturned the district decision and ruled in their favor.

“Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII,” the decision states. “The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex.”

The circuit also struck down the district’s religious freedom ruling.

This time, the funeral home sought to overturn the decision, arguing that the circuit court had over-reached its authority, and particularly, that it had expanded the definition of what it means to be a man or woman. It asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case. In April, the Supreme Court agreed to hold a hearing.

“Harris Homes ‘administers its dress code based on [its] employees’ biological sex, not based on their subjective gender identity,’ the DOJ’s Friday brief states. “Rost has stated that he ‘believe[s] that the Bible teaches that a person’s sex is an immutable God-given gift,’ and he would ‘violat[e] God’s commands’ by ‘permit[ting] one of [Harris Homes’] funeral directors to deny their sex while acting as a representative of [the] organization’ or by permitting a funeral director of either sex to ‘wear the uniform for’ funeral directors of the opposite sex ‘at work.’”

The Supreme Court will also hear two LGBTQ+ other cases involving “sex” discrimination in relation to Title VII and sexual orientation.

See what others are saying: (CNN) (Time) (NBC)

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Calls for John Bolton Impeachment Testimony Intensify After Manuscript Leak

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  • Democrats renewed calls for former National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify in the Senate impeachment trial after new details from an unpublished draft of his upcoming book were reported by the New York Times.
  • According to the Times, Bolton wrote that President Trump told him he wanted to continue a freeze on aid to Ukraine until officials announced investigations the Bidens.
  • Trump denied the allegations and accused Bolton of just trying to sell his book, a claim echoed by other Republicans.

Bolton Manuscript

Calls for former National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify in the ongoing impeachment trial intensified Sunday, following a report from the New York Times detailing new information from an unpublished draft of Bolton’s upcoming book.

According to the Times, back in August, President Donald Trump told then-Security Adviser Bolton that “he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens.”

The news hits at the heart of the ongoing impeachment proceedings.

Democrats allege that Trump withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine in order to pressure the country to announce investigations into his political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

They also claim that Trump obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the House’s impeachment inquiry, blocking subpoenaed witnesses from testifying, and not handing over key documents.

According to the Times, Bolton, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper, “collectively pressed the president about releasing the aid nearly a dozen times” but Trump “effectively rebuffed them.”

Bolton’s book, which is called “The Room Where It Happened,” is set for publication on March 17. According to the Times, the allegations about Trump and the Ukraine aid were included in drafts of the manuscript that Bolton gave to associates.

In a statement, Bolton’s lawyer Charles Cooper said that he had given the White House a copy of the book on Dec. 30 as part of the is a standard review process for administration officials who write books.

Representatives for Bolton, however, have said that he did not give the manuscript to the Times.

“It is clear, regrettably, from the New York Times article published today that the pre-publication review process has been corrupted and that information has been disclosed by persons other than those properly involved in reviewing the manuscript,” Cooper said a statement.

Trump Response

Trump denied the allegations in a tweet late Sunday night.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” the president wrote. “In fact, he never complained about this at the time of his very public termination. If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

In another tweet on Monday morning, Trump falsely claimed that the House never asked Bolton to testify.

House Democrats did in fact summon Bolton to testify in October, but he declined. At the time, Bolton’s lawyer cited instructions from the White House for former and current White House officials to not testify, though he did say Bolton would testify if subpoenaed.

Democrats did not subpoena Bolton, because the legal process for trying to get testimony or documents from witnesses who had been blocked by the White House could take months if not years.

At the beginning of this month, Bolton said that he would testify before the Senate if subpoenaed for the trial. 

Renewed Calls for Testimony

Even before the House voted to impeach Trump, there was a debate raging over whether or not new witnesses would be called to testify in the Senate trial.

Democrats wanted to call four key witnesses that they say could have first-hand accounts, including Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney.

Republicans, however, have repeatedly refused, saying new evidence should not be introduced in the Senate portion of the trial. 

But Democrats in both chambers have argued that new witnesses should be allowed based on past precedent, pointing out that new witnesses were called during Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in the Senate.

Democrats again called for new witnesses after the Times story broke. In a statement Sunday night, impeachment managers said that there was “no doubt now that Mr. Bolton directly contradicts the heart of the President’s defense and therefore must be called as a witness at the impeachment trial of President Trump.”

“There is no defensible reason to wait until his book is published, when the information he has to offer is critical to the most important decision Senators must now make — whether to convict the President of impeachable offenses,” the statement continued.

Implications for Senate Trial

The new information could finally give Democrats the push they need to call witnesses.

A vote for new witnesses would only require a simple majority, and Democrats have focused on getting a group of four key Republicans to agree to allow witnesses. Now, some of those Republicans seem to be leaning towards voting in favor of the idea.

In a statement Monday, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), one of the key Republican Senators who had been open about possibly supporting a vote new witnesses, said that the new revelations from Bolton “strengthen the case for witnesses.” 

“The reports about John Bolton’s book strengthen the case for witnesses and have prompted a number of conversations among my colleagues,” the statement continued.

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT), another Senator who considered calling witnesses, also made similar remarks to reporters on Capitol Hill Monday.

“I think it’s increasingly likely that other Republicans will join those of us who think we should hear from John Bolton,” Sen. Romney said.

But other Republicans have pushed back on the idea.

“If we seek witnesses, then we’re going to throw the country into chaos,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-KY) said on Fox News Sunday night.

However, in a tweet Monday morning, Sen. Graham said that if the Senate voted to allow Democrats their witnesses, then Trump should be allowed witnesses he requested as well. Trump has in the past called for Joe Biden and his son Hunter to testify.

Whether or not witnesses are called, the new information could poke a hole in some of the key arguments put forward by Trump’s defense team.

Republican’s and Trump’s lawyers have continually asserted that there have been no first-hand eyewitnesses, a point made by Deputy White House Counsel Michael Purpura in the Senate trial on Saturday.

“Not a single witness testified that the President himself said there was any connection between any investigations and security assistance, a Presidential meeting, or anything else,” he said.

Now, Bolton and Democrats claim that the former National Security Adviser is a first-hand witness to Trump connecting the calls for an investigation into Biden to the withheld aid.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Politico) (Fox News)

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New York City Moves to Ban Cashless Businesses

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  • New York City’s Council passed a bill on Thursday that prohibits businesses from going cashless.
  • Supporters argue this approach discriminates against low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts.
  • Meanwhile, opponents of the cashless ban argue it is more convenient for workers to only deal with digital transactions.
  • If New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio approves the bill, businesses will face a fine for refusing to accept cash as payment.  
  • San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved cashless bans in businesses last year.

Cashless Ban Approved by City Council

New York City’s Council approved a bill on Thursday that bans businesses from going cashless.

The measure was almost unanimously passed and is an effort to decrease discrimination of low-income groups, undocumented individuals, and people of color who are less likely to have bank accounts or access to credit. 

Councilmember Ritchie Torres was the bill’s lead sponsor. 

“We in the City Council have real concerns that an increasingly cashless marketplace could have a real-world discriminatory effect on low-income communities, especially communities of color, that lack access to credit and debit,” Torres said at a press conference right before the bill was passed. 

Just over 11% of households in New York — about 354,000 — do not have a bank account, according to a 2019 report by New York City’s Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. An additional 21.8% of households are underbanked, meaning they have a bank account but use alternative financial methods for some needs.  

Torres also noted that even those who do have access to bank accounts might still prefer cash because of its familiarity and its nature of allowing more privacy. 

“Whatever your reasons, consumers should have the power to choose their preferred method of payment,” Torres said. 

If the bill is approved by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, restaurants, stores, and other retail outlets will be required to accept cash as payment. If any businesses do refuse hard currency, they will be subject to a fine of $1,000 and $1,500 for each following offense. 

Businesses will have the option of adopting cash conversion machines as long as the machines do not charge any extra fees. In the case that one of these machines is not working, the business must directly accept cash. 

A spokesperson for Mayor de Blasio told The New York Times on Wednesday that he supported “the intent” of the bill, but still planned to go over it.

Cashless Ban Movement

New York City is the latest to pass legislation prohibiting businesses from refusing cash. In 2019, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New Jersey all approved these bans for similar reasons. 

While many are in favor of cashless bans, the idea has received pushback from others. Business owners have argued the method is more convenient for their workers. Leo Kremer, co-founder of the Dos Toros Taqueria chain that runs through New York City, has previously expressed this take. 

“We are only interested in being cashless because it allows us to make our restaurant more seamless,” Kremer said at a hearing on the bill in February.

Kalman Yeger, a councilman from Brooklyn, thought those who voted for the bill were “overreaching.”  

“We are inserting ourselves in the business of business in a way that we don’t have the right to,” Yeger told The New York Times.  

See what others are saying: (ABC) (The New York Times) (Guardian)

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U.S. Announces New Visa Rule Targeting “Birth Tourism”

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  • The Department of State unveiled a new rule aiming to stop pregnant women from coming to the U.S. to give birth so their children get American citizenship.
  • The rule states that this practice — commonly referred to as “birth tourism” — “poses risks to national security.” 
  • The new regulation allows consular officers to deny visas to visitors if they believe they’re traveling to the U.S. for this purpose. 
  • It also requires those traveling to the U.S. for medical purposes to prove to consular officers that they can pay for the treatment they seek.  
  • The changes will go into effect as of Friday, Jan. 24.

Crackdown on Birth Tourism  

The U.S. Department of State announced on Thursday plans to stop pregnant women from entering the country to give birth so their children are granted American citizenship, a practice commonly referred to as “birth tourism.” 

Under the new rule, consular officers can deny visas to visitors if they believe their travel to the country is primarily for this purpose.  

“The Department considers birth tourism an inappropriate basis for the issuance of temporary visitor visas,” the rule states.  

The visas that this new regulation covers are those categorized as “B nonimmigrant visas,” issued for pleasure, medical purposes, or to visit friends or family. 

“This rule reflects a better policy, as birth tourism poses risks to national security,” the Department of State said in the document. “The birth tourism industry is also rife with criminal activity, including international criminal schemes.”

By the law of the 14th Amendment, “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.”

President Donald Trump has spoken out about his disapproval of this policy before. In the past, he has called it a “magnet for illegal immigration,” and last August he expressed his wish to remove it.

The State Department’s new rule will officially take effect on Friday, Jan. 24. It will only affect those from countries who need a visa to visit the United States. 

Further Changes

In addition to cracking down on birth tourism, the State Department’s new rule also tightens qualifications for those seeking medical treatment in the U.S.

It requires that those seeking a nonimmigrant visa for this reason “must demonstrate, to the satisfaction of the consular officer,” their ability to pay for their sought-after medical services, as well as proof that a medical practitioner has already agreed to help. 

Reactions to the New Rule

After the Department of State’s new rule was made public, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham gave it her nod of approval. 

“It will also defend American taxpayers from having their hard-earned dollars siphoned away to finance the direct and downstream costs associated with birth tourism,” Grisham said in a statement. “The integrity of American citizenship must be protected.”

Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona tweeted a link to The New York Times article on the story and added a simple word of support: “Good.”

Others, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, were not happy about the change.

 “This administration is now targeting pregnant. women.” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “When you single out the most vulnerable, the cruelty is the point.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (BBC) (Time)

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