Ex-FAA Worker Seeks Court Ruling Saying Anti-Gay Job Bias Prohibited Under Existing Civil Rights Laws
The U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling in favor of nationwide marriage equality was among the most significant legal victories in the history of the LGBT civil rights movement.Â
But another lawsuit filed last week has the potential to eclipse Obergefell v. Hodges in terms of overall impact because it would affect more people, according to an attorney for the plaintiff.Â
In the face of Congress’ longtime failure to pass explicit LGBT job protections, former Federal Aviation Administration employee David Baldwin’s lawsuit is aimed at obtaining a federal decision â€” Â and eventually from the high court itself â€” saying anti-gay job bias is already illegal under existing civil rights laws.Â
â€œMr. Baldwinâ€™s case has the ability to affect more people than the [Supreme] Courtâ€™sÂ ObergefellÂ [marriage] case because there are more gay men and women who have jobs than same sex couples who want to get married,â€ Baldwinâ€™s lawyer, Lowell Kuvin, told BuzzFeed News.
In 2012, Baldwin filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging he was denied a promotion and suffered harassment based on his sexual orientation while working as a temporary frontline manager at Miami International Airport. This July, the EEOC ruled in Baldwin’s favor, saying anti-gay bias qualifies as sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The EEOC’s decision came two years after it ruled that transgender people are protected against job discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. And although both decisions were historic, they are binding only on federal agencies and don’t necessarily protect non-governmental employees.Â Since the EEOC’s decision in his case, Baldwin has sought to resolve the case with the FAA, but the agency never responded, prompting his lawsuit.
Baldwin’s lawsuit, which names transportation secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta as defendants, alleges he was passed over for a promotion to permanent front line manager in favor of less qualified people on three separate occasions. In addition, Baldwin’s supervisors repeatedly made disparaging remarks about his sexual orientation, the suit states.Â
For example, when Baldwin mentioned that he and his partner had attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans, one of his supervisors, Mark Scott, responded that “we don’t need to hear about all that gay stuff.” Baldwin was also repeatedly told he was “a distraction in the radar room” when he discussed his partner. When Baldwin mentioned that his partner prepared him lunch each day, he was told the “comment was inappropriate” and to “get out of the radar room with that kind of talk.”Â
“The fact that Plaintiff is male and gay was a motivating factor in the decision to not promote Plaintiff,â€ the complaint states.Â â€œPlaintiff was singled out due to his sexual orientation and treated differently than heterosexual co-workers.â€
Baldwinâ€™s suit seeks back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, reinstatement of front pay, injunctive relief and attorneyâ€™s fees. But above all, Baldwin hopes his case will help lead to employment protections for gay workers throughout the U.S. Currently, only 22 states ban anti-gay job discrimination, and the Equality Act, which would establish comprehensive federal civil rights protections, remains stalled in Congress. Â
“I am confident that this decision will be the deciding factor in saving countless jobs,” Baldwin told The Washington Blade following the EEOC’s decision in July. “That anyone would lose their job simply because of whom they are is a travesty. The LGBT community was never looking for ANY special consideration. We simply want the exact same protections as every other American citizen under already existing laws. Nothing more, nothing less.”Â
Since the EEOC’s decision, LGBT advocatesÂ haveÂ strongly encouraged peopleÂ who suffer anti-gay job discrimination to file complaints with the commission alleging sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.Â
According to the Blade, Baldwin is a 57-year-old Navy veteran who met his partner, Keith George, seven years ago at a Metropolitan Community Church. They’ve sinceÂ relocated to New Orleans, where they’re renovating a health club that had recently closed.Â
Read Baldwin’s full complaint here.Â
Image by David Baldwin, used with permission
Hat tip: BuzzFeed News
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On World AIDS Day, DOJ Says Tennessee Law Discriminates Against Those With HIV
The Department of Justice celebrated World AIDS Day by calling out a Tennessee law that discriminates against people with HIV.
The DOJ released a report Friday that the state’s aggravated prostitution law violated the Americans with Disabilities Act. A person arrested under the aggravated prostitution law is normally changed with a misdemeanor, and faces up to six months in prison and a $500 fine. However, if the person arrested has HIV, the crime becomes a felony, and if they’re convicted, they would face between three and 15 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
“Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution law is outdated, has no basis in science, discourages testing and further marginalizes people living with HIV,” Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division said in a statement. “People living with HIV should not be treated as violent sex offenders for the rest of their lives solely because of their HIV status. The Justice Department is committed to ensuring that people with disabilities are protected from discrimination.”
The law was originally passed in 1991. It classifies HIV-positive sex workers as violent sex offenders, according to WKRN-TV. This means that in addition to the sentence, those convicted are put on the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry, usually for the rest of their lives.
The DOJ advised the state—and particularly, the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office, which enforces the statute most frequently, the department says—to stop enforcing the law. It also calls on the state to repeal the law and remove anyone from the registry when aggravated prostitution is the only offense. If this doesn’t happen, Tennessee could face a lawsuit.
Tennessee isn’t the only state to have laws applying to only those living with HIV. In 1988, Michigan passed a law requiring those with HIV to disclose their status before sex, according to WLNS-TV. The law is still on the books, but was updated in 2019 to lift the requirement if the HIV-positive person has an undetectable viral load. The law now also requires proof that the person set out to transmit HIV.
Laws like these can work against public health efforts, according to the National Institutes of Health. The NIH says these types of laws can make people less likely to be tested for HIV, as people cannot be punished if they didn’t know their status. In addition, critics say, the laws can be used to further discriminate. A Canadian study found a disproportionate number of Black men had been charged under HIV exposure laws.
World AIDS Day was first launched in 1988 by the World Health Organization and the United Nations to highlight awareness of the then-relatively new disease. The theme of the 2023 World AIDS Day is “Let Communities Lead,” calling on community leaders to end the AIDS epidemic.
Featured image by UNIS Vienna/Flickr via Creative Commons License.
John Fetterman Says Bob Menendez ‘Senator for Egypt,’ Should Be Expelled Next
Senator John Fetterman (D-PA) called Senator Bob Menendez (D-NJ) a “senator for Egypt,” and said he needed to be expelled from Congress, much like the now-former Representative George Santos.
Fetterman appeared on The View on Friday. The live broadcast aired as Santos had been kicked out of the House. When host Joy Behar asked what he thought of the vote, Fetterman immediately replied, “I’m not surprised.”
“If you are going to expel Santos, how can you allow somebody like Menendez to remain in the Senate? And, you know, Santos’ kind of lies were almost, you know, funny,” Fetterman said. “Menendez, I think is really a senator for Egypt, you know, not New Jersey. So I really think he needs to go.”
Host Sunny Hostin then asked if Fetterman was uncomfortable with expelling Menendez, as, like with Santos, he had only been indicted, not convicted.
“He has the right for his day in court and all of it, but he doesn’t have the right to to have those kinds of votes and things. That’s not a right,” he said. “I think we need to make that kind of decision to send him out.”
This September, Menendez was indicted on corruption charges. He is accused of accepting bribes of cash, gold and a car, as well as giving “highly sensitive” information about U.S. Embassy staffers in Cairo to the Egyptian government, according to USA Today. Menendez was forced to step down as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He was replaced by Ben Cardin, Maryland’s Democratic senator.
Menendez denied wrongdoing, and has refused to resign, despite many calls to do so from both Democrats and Republicans.
“For years, forces behind the scenes have repeatedly attempted to silence my voice and dig my political grave,” Menendez said in a statement following his indictment. “Since this investigation was leaked nearly a year ago, there has been an active smear campaign of anonymous sources and innuendos to create an air of impropriety where none exists.”
This is not Menendez’s first brush with the law. Menendez was indicted in 2015 on federal corruption charges. He was accused of helping Salomon Melgen, one of Menendez’s campaign contributors, by intervening in a dispute with federal regulators and helping Melgen get a port security contract in the Dominican Republic.
In 2017, Menendez’s trial ended with a hung jury, and the Department of Justice declined to retry the case, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. Menendez denied all wrongdoing.
House Votes to Boot George Santos 311-114
Representative George Santos (R-NY) has been expelled from Congress following a 311-114 vote; two House members voted “present.”
The expulsion of Santos follows a debate on his fate on Thursday. The vote required a two-thirds majority, or 290 of the 435-seat chamber. This is Santos’ third vote of expulsion; last month, a vote failed with 31 Democrats voting against, according to The Hill.
While the vote was decisive, some notable Republicans voted to save Santos, including House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and House Majority Whip Tom Emmer (R-MN).
“We’ve not whipped the vote and we wouldn’t,” Johnson told CNN Wednesday. “I trust that people will make that decision thoughtfully and in good faith. I personally have real reservations about doing this, I’m concerned about a precedent that may be set for that.”
Santos himself had harsh words for the House following the vote. Leaving the capitol building, he briefly spoke with reporters.
“The House spoke that’s their vote. They just set new dangerous precedent for themselves,” he told CNN. “Why would I want to stay here? To hell with this place.”
He then cut his time short, telling reporters, “You know what? As unofficially no longer a member of Congress, I no longer have to answer your questions.”
Santos also faces 23 federal charges, which include fraud, money laundering and misuse of campaign funds, according to CNN. He has pleaded not guilty. An Ethics Committee report found evidence that Santos used campaign funds for Botox and even an OnlyFans account.
On Thursday, Santos said he refused to resign because otherwise, “they win.”
“If I leave the bullies take place. This is bullying,” Santos said. “The reality of it is it’s all theater, theater for the cameras and theater for the microphones. Theater for the American people at the expense of the American people because no real work’s getting done.”
Santos also threatened to file a resolution to expel Representative Jamaal Bowman (D-NY). Bowman pulled a fire alarm in September. Bowman pleaded guilty to the misdemeanor charge, and said it was an accident. He said he thought the fire alarm would open a locked door as he rushed to a vote. Bowman paid a $1,000 fine.
There have only been six total expulsions from the House, including Santos. Santos is the only Republican to ever be expelled from the House.
The previous expulsion was in 2002, when Representative James Traficant (D-OH) was expelled after a 420-1 vote. Traficant had been convicted on 10 counts of corruption-related crimes.
Before Traficant, Representative Michael “Ozzie” Myers (D-PA) was the first representative of the modern era to be expelled. Myers got the boot following his conviction for accepting bribes. Myers couldn’t keep out of trouble; in 2022, he was convicted and sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges of election fraud.
Prior to Myers, the only expulsions from the House were in 1861, at the start of the Civil War. Henry Cornelius Burnett (D-KY), John William Reid (D-MO) and John Bullock Clark (Whig-MO) were all expelled for joining the Confederacy.
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