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Christy Hall, Gender Justice
Christy Hall, Gender Justice

The POWER 30: Christy Hall

In 2020, the United States Supreme court said that LGBTQ employees are protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act from sex discrimination. To many it was an unexpected and lauded decision.

But there were some comments in Bostock v. Clayton County that caused concern. The court said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 “prohibits the federal government from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion unless it demonstrates that doing so both furthers a compelling governmental interest and represents the least restrictive means of furthering that interest. Because RFRA operates as a kind of super statute, displacing the normal operation of other federal laws, it might supersede Title VII’s commands in appropriate cases.

“But how these doctrines protecting religious liberty interact with Title VII are questions for future cases too.”

Although these comments may be considered dicta by future courts, since RFRA was not before the court, they made it into the EEOC’s Updated Compliance Manual on Religious Discrimination.

Although courts are not bound by the manual, it is still likely to have an impact, said Christy Hall of Gender Justice, a nonprofit law firm in St. Paul. “A civil rights law is only as good as your ability to enforce it. The EEOC is a major player.”

Gender Justice lawyers including Christy Hall were among those that led the state through a legislative transformation with the passage of the Women’s Economic Security Act in 2014. The bill passed with bipartisan legislative support and was signed into law on Mother’s Day 2014.

Gender Justice brought the first case under the statute to get to the Supreme Court, Hinrichs-Cady v. Hennepin County. The county said the act required a plaintiff to be employed for a year before she was entitled to pregnancy accommodation under WESA.

Gender Justice filed an amicus brief wherein Hall told the court that WESA fills a critical gap in the law and allows pregnant workers to continue working. The one-year requirement should not apply, she argued.

The Legislature stepped in to clarify that the year of employment requirement did not apply to accommodations before the court had to rule. It dismissed its grant of further review in 2021, leaving the law intact.