Attorney General Tong Joins Brief in Support of LGBTQ+ Workers
Brief Filed in Support of Teacher at a North Carolina Catholic High School Terminated After Announcing Plans to Marry his Same-Sex Partner
(Hartford, CT) -- Attorney General William Tong today joined a coalition of`18 attorneys general in filing a brief in support of a substitute teacher at a North Carolina Catholic high school who was terminated after announcing plans to marry his same-sex partner, arguing that the First Amendment does not give an employer the right to illegally discriminate against an employee because of their sex.
“Employees have a right to work free from discrimination, including the right to marry whom they love. The First Amendment is not a license for employers to discriminate. The North Carolina district court got this one right, and the defendants’ extreme and expansive theories here must be rejected,” said Attorney General Tong.
The brief, filed Wednesday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High School et al., specifically argues that the First Amendment’s protection for freedom of expressive association does not apply to the employer-employee relationship at issue in the case, and therefore does not afford the school the right to fire the teacher in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The brief supports a ruling by the North Carolina federal district court in favor of the teacher’s arguments that the school violated Title VII by discriminating on the basis of sex.
According to the brief, accepting the expansive theory of expressive association put forward by the school would severely undermine the ability of states to ensure job employment opportunities remain open to everyone. The brief argues that “if any employer could invoke an ‘expressive purpose’ not to employ certain types of people, and thereby claim exemption from employment discrimination laws under the ‘freedom not to associate,’ the results could be catastrophic and widespread.” Under the defendants’ theory of expressive association, the brief argues, “there is nothing to stop a business owner who sincerely believes in white supremacy from invoking his ‘freedom to not associate’ in refusing to hire Black employees, or a business owner who sincerely believes that Jews are responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus from refusing to hire them.”
The brief points out that the defendants’ expansive view of expressive association with regard to employment is not supported in Supreme Court or Fourth Circuit case law. Past cases concerning expressive association claims involved membership and volunteer leadership roles in private organizations rather than employment.
Workplace discrimination remains a pervasive problem across the country, according to the brief, with more than 60 percent of American workers reporting they have experienced or witnessed discrimination on the basis of race, age, gender or LGBTQ+ status. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ workers in a recent survey reported having “suffered adverse treatment at work because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and nearly a third reported such treatment within the last five years,” the brief states.
Today’s brief was led by Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and joined by the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.