Employment Discrimination: How Hobby Lobby Enables a RFRA Affirmative Defense Against Title VII’s Protections for LGBT People in the Workplace

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The author, Diana Beltré Acevedo, analyzes how the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. has created the appropriate climate for defendants with “sincerely held religious beliefs” to apply the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) as an affirmative defense against Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, especially in suits by LGBT workers. First the author gives a brief historical background of the most important cases regarding religious freedom. Then she goes into the decision of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and highlights how Justice Ginsburg’s dissent of how the Court’s interpretation would open the door for other kinds of discrimination by commercial enterprises (such as racial and/or sexual orientation discrimination) has become a reality. As an example of this, the author discusses EEOC v. R.G & G.R Harris Funeral Homes, in which the RFRA was understood to exempt the owner, who was a believer, from complying with Title VII’s provisions and case law, consequently depriving a transgender plaintiff of its protections. As a conclusion, the author emphasizes how the difficulty for LGBT plaintiffs is exacerbated when exemptions to anti-discrimination statutes such as Title VII are considered. As for Puerto Rico, she states that RFRA’s applicability could potentially render Act 22 useless for LGBT plaintiffs who are discriminated by employers with religiously based objections to homosexuality or transgender persons.

La autora, Diana Beltré Acevedo, analiza como la Corte Suprema de los Estados Unidos en la decisión Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. ha creado el clima apropiado para que los patronos demandados con “sincerely held religious beliefs” apliquen el Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) como una defensa afirmativa en contra del Título VII de la Ley de derechos civiles, especialmente en casos de personas LGBT. Primero, la autora provee el contexto histórico de los casos más importantes sobre libertad religiosa. Luego discute la decisión de Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. y destaca como la opinión disidente de la Jueza Ginsburg y la interpretación de la Corte abriría la puerta para otro tipo de discrimen por los patronos (como discrimen racial o por orientación sexual). Como ejemplo de esto, la autora discute EEOC v. R.G & G.R Harris Funeral Homes, en el que se entendió que RFRA eximía al patrono, quien era un creyente, de cumplir con las disposiciones y la jurisprudencia del Título VII, privando a las personas transgénero de sus protecciones. Como concusión, la autora enfatiza como las dificultades de las personas LGBT se exacerban con las excepciones a estatutos anti-discriminatorios como el Título VII. En cuanto a Puerto Rico, ella afirma que la aplicación de RFRA podría hacer que la Ley 22 sea inútil para los demandantes LGBT discriminados por los patronos que objetan por razones religiosas la homosexualidad o las personas transgénero.

Cita: Diana Beltré Acevedo, Employment Discrimination: How Hobby Lobby Enables a RFRA Affirmative Defense Against Title VII’s Protections for LGBT People in the Workplace, 86 Rev. Jur. UPR 1191 (2017).

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