Employment nondiscrimination suit could end up before SCOTUS

The Supreme Court could soon hear another important case with significant potential impacts on the LGBT community, this time around the issue of workplace nondiscrimination.  Jacqueline Cote, a lesbian whose employer refused to extend benefits to her legally-married wife, has filed a suit alleging that the company’s decision was a form of sex discrimination, which is banned under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

The plaintiff is arguing that family benefits were not denied simply because she was LGBT, but rather because of the sex of her spouse, and that that constitutes a violation of Title VII.  This line of thinking that has recently been accepted by the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission, and two weeks ago the Justice Department tacitly accepted it by refraining from dismissing a sexual orientation complaint outright.  Paul Smith, a partner at Jenner & Block and member of Out Leadership’s Out in Law Leadership Committee, told The Washington Post that the Justice Department’s decision can be “interpreted as a change in policy.”

If the case is not settled, it is likely to be heard by the nation’s highest court, as lower court rulings on the issue have conflicted.  If the Supreme Court finds in favor of Ms. Cote, employment nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity would become the law of the land nationwide.

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