On May 16, 2014, C|M|LAW Professors Susan Becker and Matthew Green spoke at a free CLE program entitled “A Legal Overview of LGBT Rights in Ohio.” This program was presented in conjunction with a free legal clinic set up to assist members of the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual or transgendered (“LGBT”) community with issues such as discrimination, name changes, family law, and immigration. It was sponsored by the Cleveland Metropolitan Bar Association, Equality Ohio, the Spanish-American Committee, the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland, and Nueva Luz Urban Resource Center.
Professor Becker spoke on the status of same-sex marriage, gave a brief overview of the history of the issue from the 1971 Baker v. Nelson case in Minnesota through the Windsor v. U.S. case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer. Most of her talk focused on the significant changes to federal law (Social Security, taxes, Medicare, Family Leave Act, etc.) since Windsor which extend benefits to same-sex marriage couples. She also focused on the status of the 49 cases now pending in federal courts that will likely lead to a U.S. Supreme Court decision on the constitutionality of states denying marriage to same sex couples. Finally, she spoke about the status of the law in Ohio for LGBT families.
Professor Green explained that despite decades of repeated attempts, Congress has yet to enact federal legislation to ensure equality in employment for LGBT employees. Although protections under some state and local laws exist, a significant number of LGBT workers are without legal protection. Despite these truths, the legal landscape is complex and warrants study, considering LGBT workers face stubbornly persistent and widespread workplace discrimination. To that end, it is imperative that LGBT workers, allies and advocates understand the current legal landscape as well as potential hurdles to protection. Despite the dearth of legislation directly protecting LGBT workers, courts have used stereotyping theory and changing understandings of the concept of “gender” to protect LGBT workers under extant discrimination law. Moreover, the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent, plaintiff-friendly retaliation decisions may further serve as a vehicle in some instances to protect LGBT workers from discrimination, albeit indirectly. In addition to this complex legal landscape, emerging issues with respect to religion and the workplace may well present new challenges for LGBT workers in their quest for equality in employment.