FreeState Justice, Lambda Legal Lead Amicus Brief Filing Supporting the Constitutionality of Conviction in Workplace Hate Crimes Case

Prior jury conviction affirms violent workplace discrimination of LGBTQ people disrupts interstate markets and productivity

Today, FreeState Justice announced an amicus brief effort in support of the constitutionality of a federal hate crimes conviction of a defendant who brutally assaulted his coworker because of his perception of his coworker’s sexual orientation. The defendant was convicted under the under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (the “HCPA”). The case, U.S. v. Hill case no. 18-4660, is currently pending in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.

The amicus brief explains that bias-motivated violence against the LGBT community is a pervasive national problem—one that affects not only LGBT individuals’ safety and well-being, but also the streams of commerce and our national economy. 2017 saw nearly 1,500 hate crimes motivated by gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation bias. This year has been just as horrific; as of November 2018, at least 22 transgender people have been killed in the United States.

Amid this rising violence, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia held that it was unconstitutional for a jury to convict defendant, James Hill of a hate crime against his co-worker, Curtis Tibbs. Hill had viciously beaten Tibbs while both were preparing packages for shipping in interstate commerce at their workplace, Amazon. Hill admitted he assaulted Tibbs because he thought Tibbs was gay. The trial judge reversed the jury conviction, finding application of the statute to Hill’s conduct was unconstitutional because “bias-motivated violence” is categorically “noneconomic.”

The filed amicus brief points out that violent discrimination, particularly under the circumstances here, is economic because it substantially affects interstate commerce, both in the aggregate and for the parties involved. Hill’s specific assault was also economic because it literally interfered with ongoing interstate commerce.

The brief explains, the HCPA regulates economic conduct twice. First, the HCPA’s existence adds assurances to at least some workers that discriminatory violence will not be tolerated. The mere presence of protections like these have a demonstrable economic effect on LGBT employees such as increased productivity and earning power. Second, convictions under the HCPA for discriminatory workplace violence punish economic misconduct. The injuries HCPA victims endure when violence drives them away from work are economic. The HCPA is a vital tool to help prevent bias-motivated violence from infecting American workplaces and diminishing the economic contributions, participation, and power of LGBT people.

FreeState Justice and Lambda Legal filed the brief Friday, December 7, 2018. They represented organizations dedicated to eradicating bias-motivated violence across the country, including The Matthew Shepard Foundation, The Trevor Project, the Anti-Defamation League, the Public Justice Center, and the Japanese American Citizens League. Joseph Dudek of Gohn, Hankey, and Berlage served as pro bono co-counsel on the brief.

“As we know from our work with our clients and as the brief demonstrates, LGBT people, in large part because the systemic and sometimes physically violent discrimination they encounter at work, experience poverty at disproportionately high rates.” Said Jennifer L. Kent, Managing Attorney, for FreeState Justice “FreeState was an integral part of making sure that sexual orientation and gender identity are included in Maryland state hate crimes law. Matthew Shepard’s and James Byrd, Jr.’s law extends that protection to LGBT people and other vulnerable communities in all fifty states. The law carefully ensures that those who commit a hate crime in the workplace are held accountable; it was constitutionally applied here.”

“At a time when bias-motivated violence against LGBT people and other marginalized communities is on the rise, we need all tools at our disposal to eradicate hate and protect our communities,” said Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan. “Bias-motivated violence affects not only the safety and well-being of LGBT people, but also our communities and national economy—particularly when it occurs in the workplace. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, a landmark piece of legislation protecting LGBT people, is a thoughtfully-crafted law meant to address the violent discrimination and harassment faced by so many for being who they are. It must be upheld as constitutional.”

“Hate-motivated violence against the LGBTQ community is a serious national problem, and one that LGBTQ youth worry about and discuss with us every day.” said Sam Brinton, Head of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project. “If allowed to stand, the narrow and clearly inappropriate interpretation of the District Court in Virginia would effectively erase important and groundbreaking federal protections for LGBTQ people. ”

“It is an honor to help defend this law alongside these amazing and dedicated organizations. No one should be beaten up at work. LGBT people deserve to work hard and earn a living in a safe environment just like everyone else. Congress did the right thing when it made some hateful attacks federal crimes.” Said pro bono co-counsel Joseph Dudek, Dudek, Gohn, Hankey and Berlage.

Read the full amicus brief here.

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