NEW YORK — More than 200 corporations, including many of America’s best-known companies, are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that federal civil rights law bans job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The corporations outlined their stance in a legal brief released Tuesday by a coalition of five LGBTQ rights groups. The brief is being submitted to the Supreme Court this week ahead of oral arguments before the justices on Oct. 8 on three cases that may determine whether gays, lesbians and transgender people are protected from discrimination by existing federal civil rights laws.
Among the 206 corporations endorsing the brief were Amazon, American Airlines, Bank of America, Ben & Jerry’s, Coca-Cola, Domino’s Pizza, Goldman Sachs, IBM, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Nike, Starbucks, Viacom, the Walt Disney Co. and Xerox. Two major league baseball teams, the San Francisco Giants and the Tampa Bay Rays, were among the group.
In their brief, the companies argued that a uniform federal rule is needed to protect LGBTQ employees equally in all 50 states.
“Even where companies voluntarily implement policies to prohibit sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, such policies are not a substitute for the force of law,” the brief argued. “Nor is the patchwork of incomplete state or local laws sufficient protection — for example, they cannot account for the cross-state mobility requirements of the modern workforce.”
Such friend-of-the-court briefs are routinely submitted by interested parties ahead of major Supreme Court hearings. The extent to which they might sway justices is difficult to assess, but in this case it’s an effective way for the corporations to affirm support for LGBTQ employees.
Federal appeals courts in Chicago and New York have ruled recently that gay and lesbian employees are entitled to protection from discrimination; the federal appeals court in Cincinnati has extended similar protections for transgender people.
The question now is whether the Supreme Court will follow suit, given its conservative majority strengthened by President Donald Trump’s appointments of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. The three cases are the court’s first on LGBTQ rights since the retirement last year of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who authored landmark gay rights opinions.
The Obama administration had supported treating LGBTQ discrimination claims as sex discrimination, but the Trump administration has changed course. The Trump Justice Department has argued that the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not intended to provide protections to gay or transgender workers.
The companies signing the brief represent more than seven million employees and $5 trillion in annual revenue, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest of the LGBTQ rights groups organizing the initiative. Other organizers included Lambda Legal, Out Leadership, Out and Equal, and Freedom for All Americans.