Attorney General James Fights To Protect Employees From Discrimination

NEW YORK – New York Attorney General Letitia James, as part of a coalition of 17 attorneys general from around the nation, today fought to protect New Yorkers from employment discrimination. In an amicus brief supporting the plaintiffs in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru — now before the U.S. Supreme Court — the coalition argues for maintaining the current “ministerial exception” that balances religious freedom with the need to fight back against discrimination, instead of radically expanding this exception in an effort to strip anti-discrimination protections from hundreds of thousands of Americans.

“Discrimination is wrong, plain and simple, and we will fight it anywhere we see it,” said Attorney General James. “A range of race, ethnicity, gender, age, and varying ability all provide our population with incredible diversity, adding tremendous value and varying voices to our places of work. Our coalition will fight this change because, in this nation, we value every form of diversity and will not tolerate discrimination under any circumstance.”

In the brief, the coalition argues that states play a key role in protecting their residents from employment discrimination — specifically highlighting that “States were early leaders in the fight against employment discrimination,” as well as the fact that nearly every state has adopted their own laws that ban employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, and age,” and “the vast majority have separately prohibited discrimination on the basis of disability.” The coalition goes on to point out that “State and federal anti-discrimination efforts have made significant progress in protecting employees and advancing equality,” and that states “invest resources in enforcing anti-discrimination laws.” The coalition further highlights that — in the past — the Supreme Court has “recognized the critical role States play in enforcing anti-discrimination provisions.”

Additionally, the coalition argues that applying the anti-discrimination provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act to these cases does not violate the First Amendment. The 17 attorneys general further warn that “an overly broad interpretation threatens to severely undermine workplace protections at both the federal and state level” — noting that the counter argument would “undermine workplace anti-discrimination protections.”

The group of attorneys general also point out that if the court were to side with the petitioners, the federal government “would likely deprive more than 100,000 lay teachers employed by Catholic elementary and secondary schools of the anti-discrimination protections enshrined in federal and state laws.” Finally, the brief highlights that expanding the ministerial exception would have far-reaching implications and could cause many other employees to lose their anti-discrimination protections.  

Joining Attorney General James in filing today’s amicus brief are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia.