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Michigan AG Nessel Joins Supreme Court Brief to Protect LGBTQ Employees from Discrimination

LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel joined 21 attorneys general late Wednesday in filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court arguing that federal anti-discrimination laws should protect LGBTQ employees. On the heels of Pride Month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that began the modern gay rights movement, the coalition filed the brief in three cases pending before the court that involve workers being fired based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The brief was filed in the Supreme Court cases of Altitude Express v. ZardaBostock v. Clayton County, Georgia; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC—all being considered together by the court. In their brief, the coalition of 22 attorneys general argues that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against transgender people or on the basis of sexual orientation.

“Every Michigan resident deserves equal protection under the law,” said Nessel. “For too long we’ve allowed discriminatory practices to be carried out against members of the LGBTQ community and the idea that they could be denied an opportunity to support their families due to who they love or how they identify is appalling. What should matter is the quality of the individual’s work, not the sexual orientation or gender identity of the employee.”    

Two cases, Altitude Express v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, involve employees who were terminated from their jobs after their employers learned of their sexual orientation. The attorneys general argue in their brief that Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination based on sex encompasses discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation.

The third case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, involves a transgender woman who was fired by her Wayne County-based employer – R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes – after she requested to dress in accordance with her gender identity. Former Funeral Director Aimee Stephens was fired in 2013, just two weeks after she informed her boss of her gender identity. In 2014, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes on Ms. Stephen’s behalf and after four years, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed Ms. Stephens’ termination was unlawful. In the brief, the coalition argues that Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people based on sex stereotyping or their gender identity.

The coalition argues that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity increases the already high rates of prejudice LGBTQ employees experience. It also contributes to increased harassment of LGBTQ employees in the workplace, ranging from the denial of jobs and promotions to physical and sexual assault.

Nessel and her colleagues also argue that discrimination against LGBTQ employees blocks each state’s ability to promote equality and protect residents’ dignity, economic security and mental health. Furthermore, the coalition argues that discrimination against LGBTQ workers has an economic impact that forces these residents to rely on public assistance programs due to being denied the ability to support themselves, while also impacting economic growth resulting from decreases in business productivity and increases in health costs.

Nessel joins the Attorneys General of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington in filing this brief.