Congressman Donald Norcross

Representing the 1st District of New Jersey
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Norcross Leads Letter to AG Sessions Urging DOJ to Stand Against LGBT Discrimination

Oct 11, 2017
News Release
On National Coming Out Day, Lawmakers Call for Reversal of Recent Anti-LGBT Enforcement Decisions

WASHINGTON, DC – Today, on National Coming Out Day, Congressman Donald Norcross (NJ-01), a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee, led a letter urging Attorney General Jeff Sessions to stand against workplace discrimination. The letter specifically calls for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to protect gender identity and sexual orientation.

The 36 lawmakers wrote: “Everyone deserves the right to feel safe in the workplace. Employees should be hired and fired based on their ability to do the job, not for who they are or whom they love.”

Since taking the helm at the DOJ, Attorney General Sessions sent an amicus brief and memo to all U.S. attorneys stating that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should no longer be interpreted as protecting gender identity and sexual orientation.

The letter states: “We were dismayed that the Department of Justice, under your oversight, has recently argued that it was legal to discriminate against an employee based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. On National Coming Out Day, we urge you to reverse your decision and make it so that no LGBT American need fear "coming out" at work.”

"No one should be fired, forced from their job, or passed over for promotions because they are lesbian, gay, or bisexual or transgender,” said Sharon McGowan, Director of Strategy at Lambda Legal. “LGBT employees should be valued for how well they do their jobs—not who they love or who they are. It is disgraceful that the Department of Justice is working so hard to eliminate workplace protections for LGBT people. Fortunately, the question of whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBT people is a question for the courts to resolve, not the Attorney General. Lambda Legal will continue to fight on behalf of LGBT workers to ensure they are treated equally and fairly."

In addition to Norcross, this letter was signed by Representatives Lisa Blunt Rochester (DL-At Large), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Andre Carson (IN-07), Matt Cartwright (PA-17),  David Cicilline (RI-01), Katherine Clark (MA-05), Charlie Crist (FL-13), Susan Davis (CA-53), Mark DeSaulnier (CA-11), Elizabeth Etsy (CN-05), Dwight Evans (PA-02), Jimmy Gomez (CA-34), Raul Grijalva (AZ-03), Clay Higgins (LA-03),  Pramila Jayapal(WA-07), Ro Khanna (CA-17),  Joe Kennedy (MA-04), Ted Lieu (CA-33), Alan Lowenthal (CA-47), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Seth Moulton (MA-06), Jerrod Nadler (NY-10), Frank Pallone (NJ-06), Donald M. Payne, Jr (NJ-10),  Mark Pocan (WI-02), Jared Polis (CO-02), Jamie Raskin (MD-08), Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Linda Sanchez (CA-38), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Albio Sires (NJ-08), Mark Takano (CA-41), Dina Titus (NV-01), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL-23) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12).

The full text of the letter follows and can be downloaded here.

Dear Attorney General Sessions,

On this National Coming Out Day, we call on you to affirm the rights of LGBT employees in the workplace. As Members of Congress who are dedicated to equality, it is clear to us that workers should feel safe to be "out" in the workplace without fear of being targeted by their employers. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits employers from discriminating because of an individual’s sex, and for years organizations like Lambda Legal have successfully made the case that sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination are forms of discrimination based on sex. That is why we were dismayed that the Department of Justice, under your oversight, has recently argued that it was legal to discriminate against an employee based solely on their sexual orientation or gender identity. On National Coming Out Day, we urge you to reverse your decision and make it so that no LGBT American need fear "coming out" at work.   

Earlier this year, Lambda Legal successfully argued before the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that Kimberly Hively had rights under Title VII that forbade her employer from denying her a promotion for not hiding her LGBT identity at work. Building on this success, we hope that the Second Circuit Court will rule in the case Zarda v. Altitude Express that, when Donald Zarda was fired for not concealing his LGBT identity at work, his Title VII rights were violated. We are glad that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed an amicus brief affirming Mr. Zarda's rights even if you filed an amicus brief arguing to opposite.

Even more recently, the case of Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital brings this issue to light again. Jameka Evans worked as a security officer at the Georgia Regional Hospital, but was denied equal pay and work opportunities because of her sexual orientation and for not conforming to her employer’s expectation of a female employee's dress and mannerisms. If Jameka Evans were a man, her attraction to women would not have led to this mistreatment; this reality is the very definition of discrimination based on sex. Recognizing this simple truth, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals found in the case of Glenn v. Brumby that Vandy Beth Glenn's civil rights had been violated when she was fired after coming out as transgender. With legal precedents such as these, Lambda Legal has guided Jameka Evans' appeals and this summer appealed to the United States Supreme Court to right this wrong.

Everyone deserves the right to feel safe in the workplace. Employees should be hired and fired based on their ability to do the job, not for who they are or whom they love. All workers, whether transgender, gay or straight, deserve equal pay and equal opportunity for equal work. This National Coming Out Day, we choose to elevate the voices of those who have needed to conceal their LGBT identity at work, while praising Jameka Evans, Donald Zarda and Kimberly Hively who, with the help of Lambda Legal, have pushed the cause of LGBT equality forward.  We believe what numerous courts have already found: that the Civil Rights Act protects LGBT employees, and we urge you to affirm these rights in every case and every court in the nation. National Coming Out Day is a day for LGBT Americans to step forward and live their identity, and it is all of our moral responsibility to protect them as they do.

Sincerely,

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Contact: Ally Kehoe, Communications Director
ally.kehoe@mail.house.gov 

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