Following a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the Civil Rights Division of the Arizona Attorney General's Office is now investigating cases involving workplace discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation — even though state law lacks similar protections for people who are gay or transgender.
"Effective immediately, the Attorney General’s Office will begin accepting discrimination claims related to employment as a result of the Supreme Court decision," Ryan Anderson, a spokesman for the Arizona Attorney General's Office, told Phoenix New Times. "We follow the law. And whether that be state law or a decision by the Supreme Court, that’s our responsibility."
"If someone filed something today, we would take it," he added.
The new policy is spelled out in a filing from the Attorney General's Office in another case from 2017 where a Arizona woman wanted to sue her employer for discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and tried to get the AG's Office to back her claim. Previously, the office had resisted, citing a "lack of jurisdiction" under existing Arizona state law, and referred her to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She eventually was able to settle her claim after suing her employer, but also sued the state in an effort to get the AG's Office to take similar workplace discrimination claims based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
Now, as the new filing by the state argues, the case is "moot" due to last week's Supreme Court ruling and the fact that the AG's Office is taking up workplace discrimination cases involving sexual orientation and gender identity.
"In the wake of Bostock, the Division will now review cases alleging employment discrimination because of sexual orientation or transgender status," the filing states. "Prior to Bostock, the U.S. Supreme Court had not held that Title VII extended to sexual orientation or transgender status. In light of Bostock, the Division will now accept and review cases alleging employment discrimination because of sexual orientation or transgender status."
"Not only does it move forward the original case but it puts forward some direction that the Attorney General’s Office, at least this administration, will be taking these types of claims and be investigating them," Anderson said. "Assuming the court approves this, it will hold us to this standard and our decision to start accepting these types of claims."
He added that the posture to get ahead of existing Arizona state law, which still doesn't provide protections for LGBTQ-based workplace discrimination, will protect the state from potential future legal liability.
"This is something that we decided to do proactively," Anderson said. "It avoids a scenario where somewhere down the line the state could incur unnecessary litigation costs if we decided not to do this and it’s the right thing to do legally."
"Even if the Legislature decided not to amend or clarify the statute with respect to the Supreme Court decision, this office, which is responsible for enforcing the Civil Rights Act here in Arizona — that’s what we’re going to do," he said.
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Republicans in the Arizona House of Representatives are looking into the AG's move, a spokesperson said.
"It’s something that the Speaker, and other members, are reviewing," Andrew Wilder, the Republican caucus' director of communications, wrote in an email.
People interested in filing a claim regarding potential employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity should fill out an intake questionnaire on the Attorney General's Office website.