Aimee Stephens, the plaintiff behind the transgender rights Title VII case currently before the Supreme Court, died yesterday at the age of 59. Stephens was the first transgender person whose civil rights case was heard by the Court, according to the ACLU, who represents Stephens. The case, R.G. & G.R. Funeral Homes v. EEOC, deals with whether Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of sex also protect transgender employees who are discriminated against on the basis of their gender identity. “We all owe her a debt of gratitude for her commitment to justice for all people, and her dedication to the trans community,” tweeted the ACLU. A decision is expected from the court by June.
Labor advocates warn that the lack of coronavirus safety protections for farmworkers is creating dangerous conditions that could threaten the food supply. Significant outbreaks involving farmworkers have already occurred, such as on a farm in upstate New York where 169 of 340 workers has tested positive for the virus. While the Trump Administration has deemed farmworkers “essential,” it has not issued any binding safety standards for protecting workers. The CDC’s recommended guidelines for essential workers apply to agricultural workers, but are not mandatory. Advocates for farmworkers including the United Farm Workers have urged federal agencies to make the recommendations enforceable, to guarantee benefits like paid sick leave and access to health care, and to improve housing conditions to avoid crowding and allow social distancing. POLITICO reports that some farms have instituted their own safety measures voluntarily, but action is inconsistent.
As states begin to slowly reopen segments of their economy, workers are concerned that protections are being rolled back too quickly. In Connecticut, a Starbucks barista reported being told that catastrophe pay would cease for employees who were “unwilling to work” as stores reopen, The New York Times reports. While the company told workers earlier in March that no employee should have to choose between their health and their job, the reopening policy places that choice at workers’ feet. OnLabor reported yesterday on the Department of Labor’s policy that “general concern” regarding contracting COVID-19 is not sufficient grounds to refuse returning to work.
Republican lawmakers have stated that liability protection for reopening businesses is “nonnegotiable” in the next stimulus package. But during yesterday’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Senator Lindsey Graham acknowledged that federal regulators must play a role in ensuring workplace safety to make liability shields work. According to The Washington Post, witnesses at the hearing representing both labor and business agreed that enforceable rules could give workers recourse while giving some protections to employers seeking certainty in reopening. The Trump Administration has resisted issuing binding safety rules, recently blocking the CDC from issuing specific guidance to reopening daycare centers, restaurants, and theaters. Some Democrats and labor groups remain concerned that any proposal to limit liability is a ploy to strip workers of protections in an already dangerous time.