WASHINGTON, D.C. – For Augusta Thomas, national vice president of the American Federation of Government Employee’s Women’s and Fair Practices departments, the week of June 24th has felt like a judicial roller coaster ride.
Although one Supreme Court decision was a victory for civil liberties, three others represented the equivalent of supreme injustices.
“If we sit back and do nothing, we will watch our democracy shrink,” Thomas said.
In three cases, the Supreme Court aimed to turn back the clock, or better yet, sought to ignore the reality that discrimination is alive and well.
In the case of Vance v. Ball State University, Supreme Court Docket No. 11-556 (June 24, 2013), the court narrowed the definition of a supervisor, thereby making it more difficult for workers to sue an employer for discrimination and harassment even if someone who has clear authority over them is carrying out the injustice.
In University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, Supreme Court Docket No. 12-484 (June 24, 2013), the court held that employee retaliation claims filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 must be proven under traditional principles of causation, not the lesser causation test for Title VII discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion and national origin.
In Shelby County v. Holder, Supreme Court Docket No. 12-96 (June 25, 2013), the court struck down a key provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, suggesting that conditions had changed sufficiently since 1965 that special protections of the rights of minorities, youth and the aged are no longer necessary.
The exception to this string of attacks on democracy and equal rights was the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor, Supreme Court Docket No. 12-307 (June 26, 2013). Here the court found that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional because it only recognized certain marriages, thereby denying equal rights to same-sex couples.
“While the Supreme Court should be applauded for recognizing that all married workers—irrespective of their sexual orientation—should be entitled to the same rights under federal law, the other cases present a fundamental threat to democracy and civil rights,” Thomas said.
The court fell short on protecting the voting rights of the elderly, disabled and minority citizens, Thomas said. The court also disregarded the EEOC’s guidelines on employer liability in harassment cases and retaliation under Title VII, making it more difficult to win retaliation and harassment cases.
“As someone who is and has been deeply committed to the Civil Rights Movement, I am optimistic that our battles from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s have formed the foundation for equality for the future,” Thomas said. “Despite the setbacks in some of the court’s decisions, I am confident that we will be victorious as we continue to work together to stand up for civil, human, women’ and workers’ rights.”
Thomas said that AFGE’s Women’s and Fair Practices departments will continue efforts to end discrimination in the workplace.
“We must battle against the court’s outrageous and unrelenting efforts to strip our constitutional and human rights,” she said.
Thomas encouraged federal employees who want to learn more about protecting their rights and the rights of fellow AFGE members to sign-up for AFGE’s 2013 Human Rights Training Conference.