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The U.S. Supreme Court Building stands in Washington, D.C. (Bloomberg file photo)

States urge Supreme Court to extend rights to gay workers

Almost two dozen states, including Minnesota, are urging the U.S. Supreme Court to extend a decades-old workplace discrimination law to cover gay and transgender employees, who can be fired for no reason in many parts of the country.

A ban on sex-based discrimination enshrined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should also apply to cases involving sexual orientation and gender identity, New York Attorney General Letitia James said Wednesday in a statement. James and her Illinois counterpart, Kwame Raoul, are leading a coalition of 22 states in filing a so-called friend-of-the-court brief with the high court in Washington, according to the statement.

In February, the Supreme Court decided to consider three employment cases that could let the court’s new conservative majority put its imprint on the American workplace. On Tuesday, a group of about 200 companies filed a similar brief in support of LGBTQ workers, arguing that protecting them from discrimination nationwide is better for productivity.

“No one should be singled out or discriminated against in this country — not for their race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, or any other reason — which is why we are going to the Supreme Court to ensure equality for all Americans,” James said.

The filing by the states is being made “on the heels of Pride Month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots that began the modern gay rights movement,” James said.

The cases before the Supreme Court include an appeal from a man who says a Georgia county fired him because he is gay. Another is from a now-defunct New York skydiving company accused of firing an instructor because of his sexual orientation. The court also will consider whether a Michigan funeral-home chain was within its rights to fire a transgender worker as she was preparing to start living openly as a woman.

The justices, who had been deliberating for months about whether to take the cases, will hear them in the nine-month term that starts in October.

Federal appeals courts have split on whether firing people over their sexual orientation is a form of illegal sex discrimination. In the case of the gay skydiving instructor, the appeals court in Manhattan overturned its own previous rulings against him, saying “legal doctrine evolves.”

It’s unclear which way the high court will rule. While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlaws job discrimination on the basis of “sex,” as well as race and other factors, it doesn’t mention sexual orientation or gender identity. The Trump administration has argued against protecting LGBTQ workers, and the Supreme Court has tilted to the right after conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed in October to succeed Justice Anthony Kennedy, who usually backed gay rights.

The states’ brief will argue that discrimination against LGBTQ employees hampers the ability of states “to promote equality and protect residents’ dignity, economic security, and mental health,” according to the statement. Such bias can also have a negative economic impact on states because residents who are denied the ability to support themselves are oftentimes forced to rely on public assistance, the states will say.

James and Raoul are joined in the brief by the AGs from California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington, according to the statement.

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