Showing posts with label Court Overturns. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Court Overturns. Show all posts

May 1, 2018

Law Firm Wins Case Against Court Ruling Not Allowing Defense to Asks Jurors If They Are Anti LGBT







This article is part of National Law Journal’s 2018 Pro Bono Hot List recognition package that celebrates law firms that do well by doing good. See the other stories here.
A Florida judge’s decision not to allow attorneys to question jurors about potential biases against LGBT individuals, in the midst of a trial between Raymond Berthiaume, who is gay, and the city of Key West sparked a precedent-setting appeals court battle.

A team from Akerman and LGBT advocates pushed back against the judge’s decision and took the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, arguing for basic civil rights that would be given to protected classes to ensure fair legal proceedings.
Berthiaume was entrenched in a battle with the city of Key West over allegations of excessive force, false arrest, and imprisonment. The Eleventh Circuit sided with him and granted a new trial.
Lambda Legal and the National LGBT Bar Association both hailed the victory as a major win for the LGBT community and as a precedent in favor of protections for LGBT individuals in legal disputes.
Akerman partner Whitney Untiedt, who serves as director of pro bono initiatives, said the case was an “obvious yes” to take as the firm has focused on serving the LGBT population in its pro bono work.
“Winning always feels good, but the main reason we took this case is because lawyers needed to stand up on behalf of this individual who was discriminated against in the jury selection process,” Untiedt said. “We wanted to stand up and say out loud that you can’t treat LGBT people any differently from anyone else.”
Berthiaume was represented on appeal by a team of attorneys with Akerman in Tallahassee, including Ryan O’Connor, Dale Noll, Katherine Giddings and Untiedt, along with trial lawyer Hugh Koerner, who has a law office in Hollywood, Florida. Akerman attorney Noll is the current president of the National LGBT Bar Association, which, along with other gay rights groups including Lambda Legal, filed friend-of-the-court briefs in the case.
Akerman has focused much of its pro bono work and advocacy on LGBT issues. It filed friend-of-the-court briefs in several cases, including a first-impression case that argues the Ninth Circuit should hold that transgender is a protected class, and wrote several briefs in courts surrounding the issue of whether transgender students should be able to use the bathroom of their gender preference. The firm also joined with Immigration Equality to represent gay and transgender immigrants seeking asylum protection in the United States.
In addition to this work, the firm successfully represented Ability Housing in a lawsuit stemming from Jacksonville, Florida’s refusal to permit the organization to purchase and restore a dilapidated building to create housing for disabled, homeless veterans. The city was required to pay $2 million in penalties, legal fees, and a grant to pay for housing for people with disabilities.

March 26, 2018

Louisiana Supremes Kill Governor's Order Protecting LGBT's at Work




Mississippi Supreme Court: Front, from left, Justices Jess Dickinson, Chief William Waller Jr., Michael Randolph; back, Justices Dawn Beam, Josiah Coleman, Jim Kitchens, Ann Lamar, Leslie King, Jimmy Maxwell

An order by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards protecting LGBT state workers has been killed by the state Supreme Court. In a 4-3 decision, the judges decided Friday not to hear an appeal of an earlier appellate court’s ruling that determined the order was an overreach of state law. 

Edwards initially signed the order—which banned discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in government agencies and state contracts—back in April 2016. But Republican Attorney General Jeff Landry challenged the order’s constitutionality and won in court
Edwards had hoped to get it restored, and in a statement said his disappointment “is only overshadowed by my frustration that the courts believe that discrimination is something we should tolerate in Louisiana.”
In the court’s dissenting opinion, Chief Justice Bernette said Edwards’ mandate “is consistent with the governor’s legal obligation to faithfully execute the Equal Protection Clause and the broad remedial purpose of both state and federal anti-discrimination statutes.” She also noted that previous governors had issued similar orders. (In all, 13 U.S. states have executive or administrative orders barring employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity.) 

But AG Landry praised the ruling, saying he hoped it “will end the governor’s waste of precious taxpayer resources in defense of his unconstitutional actions.”
Landry, whose brother is gay, has long opposed gay rights: In 2012, he demanded the University of Louisiana remove LGBT studies as a minor. Four years later he added Louisiana to a multi-state lawsuit against the Departments of Justice and Education for instructing public schools to let trans students use the appropriate facilities.
“The good Lord doesn’t build us in that particular way,” Landry told the anti-gay Family Research Council at the time.
Currently, 16 states offer no discrimination protections for the LGBT community, although some municipalities within them do. According to the Movement Advancement Project, 50% of LGBT Americans lives in such states.

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February 27, 2018

Fed Appeals Court Rules Gay Rights are Protected by Current Law




 Federal District Court, NY



A federal appeals court on Monday ruled that a 1964 civil rights law bans anti-gay workplace discrimination. The decision rebukes the Trump administration — which had argued against a gay worker in the case — and hands progressives a win in their strategy to protect LGBT employees with a drumbeat of lawsuits.

The dispute hinges on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex, also bans workplace discrimination due to sexual orientation.

The Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit ruled Monday, “We now hold that sexual orientation discrimination constitutes a form of discrimination ‘because of . . . sex,’ in violation of Title VII.” In doing so, the court overruled a lower court — and a precedent from two previous court cases — and remanded the case to be litigated in light of their reading of Title VII.

The decision holds national implications due to its high tier in the judicial system, and because it’s seen as a litmus test of the Trump administration’s ability — or inability — to curb LGBT rights through court activism. The Justice Department had injected itself into the case even though it wasn’t a party to the lawsuit and doesn’t normally involve itself in private employment disputes.

The case was heard in New York City by all 13 judges in the 2nd Circuit, known as an en banc hearing, which leaves the Supreme Court as the only avenue for a potential appeal.

The ruling comes soon after another major gay-rights ruling in 2017, thereby giving momentum to the argument that anti-gay discrimination is prohibited even without a federal law that explicitly says so.

"Sexual orientation is a function of sex and, by extension, sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination," the majority wrote. 
In reaching its decision Monday, the court pointed out that anti-gay discrimination would not exist "but for" a person's sex. That is to say, gays, lesbians, and bisexuals would not face their unequal treatment if they had been born a different gender, or were attracted to a different sex.

"A woman who is subject to an adverse employment action because she is attracted to women would have been treated differently if she had been a man who was attracted to women," the majority wrote in an opinion led by Judge Robert Katzman. "We can, therefore, conclude that sexual orientation is a function of sex and, by extension, sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination."

Although no federal law directly bans anti-LGBT discrimination in workplaces, in 2010, Donald Zarda sued his employer, Altitude Express, Inc., alleging the company terminated him for his sexual orientation in violation of Title VII.

Zarda’s lawyers deployed an emerging legal argument that contends Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination applies to gay workers. Since courts have found in the past that the law prohibits sex stereotyping discrimination, his lawyers said, the law, therefore, bans discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

That position has been adopted by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a largely autonomous federal agency that handles civil rights disputes in the workplace and supported Zarda in court.

“Sex stereotyping says that if you are a man attracted to a man or a woman attracted to a woman, you’re not behaving the way those genders are supposed to behave,” an EEOC lawyer told the judges at a September hearing in Manhattan.

But the Justice Department took opposite stance, thereby pitting the federal government against itself.

“There is a common-sense difference between sex discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination,” a Justice Department attorney told the court in September, arguing that Congress could have clarified the law but didn’t.

The discord between agencies stems from the Trump administration turning away from the Obama administration’s LGBT-friendly trajectory, thereby letting lawyers under US Attorney General Jeff Sessions clash with more autonomous corners of the federal bureaucracy.

Under Sessions, the Justice Department has tried to roll-back several LGBT gains, rescinding the Obama-era policy that protects transgender students and reversing a policy that said Title VII protects transgender workers. Sessions also filed a brief at the Supreme Court in favor of a Christian baker who refused a wedding cake to a gay couple, and in Zarda’s case, argued Title VII also doesn’t encompass sexual orientation.

 A dissenting judge countered that Congress "did not then prohibit, and alas has not since prohibited, discrimination based on sexual orientation."
The Obama administration had tried to skirt the issue of whether Title VII covered gay workers. In 2012, the administration sought to dismiss a sexual orientation lawsuit based on Title VII by saying a plaintiff failed to prove the facts to support the sex-stereotyping claim. In 2016, the Obama administration arguably dialed back its position when it didn’t even try to dismiss a similar lawsuit.

On Monday, the 2nd Circuit found that "sexual orientation is doubly delineated by sex because it is a function of both a person’s sex and the sex of those to whom he or she is attracted. Logically, because sexual orientation is a function of sex and sex is a protected characteristic under Title VII, it follows that sexual orientation is also protected."

But in a 74-page dissent, Judge Gerard Lynch wrote argued that Congress had not intended to outlaw anti-gay discrimination when it approved Title VII's language in 1974. And in contrast to dozens of states have explicitly passed laws banning anti-LGBT workplace discrimination, he argued Congress "has not done so yet."

Lynch writes that Title VII "was intended to secure the rights of women to equal protection in employment" and that Congress "did not then prohibit, and alas has not since prohibited, discrimination based on sexual orientation."

However, Judge Raymond Lohier rebutted that thinking in a concurring opinion, saying that Judge Lynch was misguided to speculate on Congress's intent.

"Time and time again," Lohier writes, "the Supreme Court has told us that the cart of legislative history is pulled by the plain text, not the other way around. The text here pulls in one direction, namely, that sex includes sexual orientation."

Courts seem a ways off from resolving Title VII’s scope on LGBT issues. In April 2017, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a lesbian who made the same claim that she was protected by Title VII. But in December, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge from 11th Circuit, which said Title VII does not cover gay workers.

Dominic Holden
Dominic Holden


May 9, 2017

A.Hernandez Murder Conviction Overturned by Judge Today



 Aaron Hernandez hanged himself inside his jail cell



A Massachusetts judge on Tuesday overturned former New England Patriots star Aaron Hernandez's conviction for murdering an acquaintance in 2013, granting his attorneys' request since the athlete died before exhausting the appeal process.

Prosecutors had argued Hernandez's prison suicide should have prevented the judge from overturning the conviction following his death, which is routinely allowed by Massachusetts state law when the conviction in question has not been fully appealed.

Hernandez, 27, hanged himself last month in a prison cell where he was serving a life sentence for the June 2013 killing of Odin Lloyd. The suicide stunned his family because it came just days after Hernandez been found not guilty of a 2012 double murder. 

"This court cannot know why Hernandez chose to end his life," said Superior Court Judge Susan Garsh, who handled the 2015 trial in which a jury found the former tight end guilty of fatally shooting Lloyd in an industrial park near his home in North Attleborough, Massachusetts.

"There being no reason to recognize any exception in this case in the interest of justice the court has no choice" but to vacate Hernandez's conviction, Garsh said.

Hernandez had a $41 million National Football League contract when he was arrested at his home in June 2013 and charged with murder. Prosecution witnesses at his trials painted a picture of a troubled man with a history of drug use and paranoid tendencies.

Prosecutors plan to appeal Garsh's decision, said Thomas Quinn, the Bristol County District Attorney.

Noting that Hernandez had left his fiancée, Shayanna Jenkins Hernandez, a note that included the phrase "you're rich," Quinn said the suicide may have been intended to help his family protect assets.

"It is fair to conclude based on what was presented that it was a knowing decision that he had thought about and acted upon," Quinn told reporters, standing alongside Lloyd's mother, Ursula Ward.
 
Hernandez's attorneys praised the judge's decision and declined to answer reporters' questions on whether it would have any influence on civil lawsuits by the families of the men he was accused of murdering.

Hernandez was cleared last month of killing two Cape Verdean nationals, Daniel Abreu and Safiro Furtado.

"In our book, he's guilty and he's going to always be guilty," Ward said. "No one wins today. But I won because I have God on my side and with God all things are possible.”

 

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