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Trump administration argues civil rights law doesn't cover LGBTQ workers

In this image, an LGBTQ rainbow flag flies above the Supreme Court while protestors hold signs that read: "Don't roll back our rights, protect LGBTQ workers"
Demonstrators outside the Supreme Court on Oct. 8. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

The Trump administration urged the Supreme Court on Tuesday to rule that LGBTQ people can be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Where it stands: The administration's involvement in LGBTQ cases supplements a 2-year White House playbook to undo many protections the LGBTQ community secured under President Obama. One of the cases is the first to ask the court to determine the civil rights of transgender people, per the ACLU.

The big picture: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination "because of sex." The Justice Department argued in 3 cases Tuesday that those rules don't ban discrimination against LBGQ or transgender workers.

The Justice Department is at odds with its own Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the case of Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who was fired from a funeral home because she wanted to "dress as a woman," according to the business owner's testimony. The EEOC sued on Stephens' behalf in 2014.

What they're saying: The administration argues that "Title VII’s protections apply fully to transgender individuals" when it comes to sex discrimination — women being treated worse than men, or vice versa — but "treating a transgender person less favorably than a non-transgender person" is not part of the law's protections.

  • It says there is no "evidence that the funeral home treated some or all biologically male employees less favorably than similarly situated biologically female employees."

The other side: "Congress wrote a broad statute that prohibits all sex discrimination," Chase Strangio, part of Stephens' legal team at the ACLU and a transgender activist, tells Axios. "When an employer fires someone for being transgender, no matter how sex is defined, that is discrimination because of sex."

In 2 other cases, which were argued together, the Trump administration says that Title VII doesn't cover discrimination based on sexual orientation. Both suits were filed by men who say they were fired for being gay.

  • An employer who discriminates against employees in same-sex relationships doesn't violate Title VII as long as it treats men and women in those relationships the same way, their argument says.

Yes, but: 69% of Americans — and 56% of Republicans — favor laws that would protect LGBTQ people from job and housing discrimination, a 2018 PRRI survey found.

What to watch: This issue — alongside cases on abortion access, guns and immigration — will likely come to a head next summer before the 2020 presidential election.

Go deeper: 2019's Supreme Court cases to watch