Thousands urge U.S. Supreme Court to protect LGBT+ workers from discrimination

NEW YORK, July 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The mental and financial health of veterans and military families will suffer without explicit protections for LGBT+ Americans, advocates argued on Wednesday in a brief filed with the U.S. Supreme Court.

The nation’s highest court agreed in April to take on three LGBT+ workplace discrimination cases this October, marking the first indication of how its new conservative majority might handle LGBT+ rights.

A brief filed on behalf of military personnel, one of 49 filed on Wednesday bearing thousands of signatures, argued that the economic interests and dignity of LGBT+ military families stationed in states without legal protections were endangered.

“Without Title VII protection, LGBT family members of service members can be denied the few available jobs in these areas and may have no income or have to travel long distances for work, both of which will burden their families,” it said.

At issue is whether LGBT+ people are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin or religion.

President Donald Trump’s administration has argued that Title VII’s protections do not extend to LGBT+ people, and the conservative make-up of the court spurred the slew of briefs - input filed by interested parties not directly part of a lawsuit - ahead of Wednesday’s filing deadline.

“This is an unusually high number of amicus (friend-of-the-court) briefs,” said Jon Davidson, chief council for Freedom For All Americans (FFAA), a group that works on LGBT+ protections and oversaw coordination of the briefs.

“I think we ended up covering almost every angle you can think of,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

One brief filed by an LGBT+ suicide prevention organization, addressed mental health hazards of harassment. Another detailed a worker being told outright, “we can’t have people like you” on staff.

More than half of LGBT+ Americans live in states without protection from discrimination at work, school and elsewhere.

The briefs included input meant to sway the court from 30 female chief executives, more than 150 members of Congress and state and local government leaders.

Peter Perkowski, legal and policy director of the Modern Military Association of America (MMAA) who co-wrote the military family brief, said he hoped concern for military families would appeal to the court’s conservative majority.

“Protecting the military and protecting military families is a conservative value - it can move conservatives to think differently about federal policy when they have competing values at work,” he said.

The Supreme Court has been seen as leaning more conservative since Trump appointed two new members to the nine-judge panel.

On Tuesday, more than 200 U.S. companies including Amazon, Nike and Google filed a brief urging the court to rule in favor of LGBT+ employees, arguing that bias harms businesses’ ability to recruit and retain talent.

About 70 percent of Americans support laws protecting LGBT+ people from workplace and housing discrimination according to a poll in March conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute. (Reporting by Kate Ryan, Editing by Chris Michaud