Regional LGBT center joins trans discrimination Supreme Court battle


Allentown’s Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center has joined 32 other LGBTQ rights organizations across the country in filing documents supporting trans woman Aimee Stephens in her U.S. Supreme Court case.

Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, a nonprofit dedicated to achieving trans equality, filed the “friend of the court” brief, or amicus brief, July 2. In her case R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Stephens was fired from her job at a funeral home after beginning to live openly as her authentic gender.

The filing allows affected parties other than the plaintiff to weigh in on a Supreme Court case, said Noah Lewis, senior staff attorney at Transgender Legal. Bradbury-Sullivan Center is the only organization in Pennsylvania to join the amicus brief.

People of varying perspectives, including business professionals, Republicans and religious leaders, have signed on to the briefing, Lewis added. Participants are calling on the Supreme Court to uphold a Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from March 2018 that Stephens’ dismissal resulted from unlawful sex discrimination because of her gender identity.

The Supreme Court will rule whether it qualifies as sex discrimination under federal civil rights statutes to fire someone for being transgender. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has long served as a precedent for protecting transpeople from employment discrimination, Lewis said, alongside 1989 Supreme Court ruling in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.

In the case, the Supreme Court sided with plaintiff Ann Hopkins when she sued her employer for not granting her partnership in the Price Waterhouse firm because of her “interpersonal skills” and appearance. The 1989 decision applies to Stephens because her termination stemmed from failure to conform to the idea that physical anatomy at birth solely determines a person’s sex,” the amicus brief states.

“We’re standing up for people of all gender identities, but especially trans-identified people, to be able to seek and hold employment without fear of discrimination based on who they are,” said Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan Center.

The amicus brief argues that Stephens’ firing is a clear case of sex discrimination under Title VII. To rule otherwise would unfairly single out and exclude 1.55 million transgender people from employment protections covering all other workers, the document states.

The filing also argues that consensus in the medical and legal fields is that many complex factors comprise “sex,” including gender identity.

Lewis said the amicus brief team wanted to ensure trans people are heard by the court and the case has implications for their “faith in the legal system as a whole.”

“This is a really straightforward case of sex discrimination, regardless of how you slice it,” he added. “This was about Aimee Stephens’ sex. It was about whether she was male or female.”

Shanker said he hopes the brief illustrates “strong, data-informed reasoning” for current Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines and sends a supportive message to the region’s trans community.

“We’re standing up for nondiscrimination protections for the trans community,” he told PGN. “And regardless of the outcome of the court, that trans people know they have support from their local LGBT community center here in Allentown.”

But the nationally-followed case reaffirms the need for passage of a Fairness Act — both in Pennsylvania and across the country — that would ban employment, housing and public accommodation discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, Shanker said.

Pennsylvania has at least 34 municipalities, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Lancaster, Harrisburg and Erie, with individual ordinances preventing such discrimination. But the Keystone State is the only one in the northeast without a Fairness Act. New Jersey, Delaware and New York are among 21 states with all-encompassing nondiscrimination protections, according to data nonprofit Movement Advancement Project.

“Pennsylvania has yet to do that and Congress has yet to do that, so regardless of the outcome of the case that remains a critical priority,” Shanker said.

Amicus briefs are also expected from the opposition’s side, Lewis told PGN. Oral arguments will begin Oct. 8.