Attorney General Bonta Takes Action in Defense of Marriage Equality, Rights of LGBTQ+ Workers

Thursday, December 1, 2022
Contact: (916) 210-6000,

OAKLAND – California Attorney General Rob Bonta today joined a coalition of 18 attorneys general in an amicus brief pushing back on an effort to deny critical civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans in the workplace. The case, Billard v. Charlotte Catholic High School, centers around a lawsuit brought by a drama teacher who was fired after announcing his marriage to his long-term same-sex partner. In the friend-of-the-court brief before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the coalition highlights the states’ strong interest in eradicating employment discrimination and urges the appellate court to uphold the lower court’s decision in favor of the plaintiff.

“Who you love has no bearing on your ability to teach,” said Attorney General Bonta. “My office is taking action to defend the rights of LGBTQ+ workers against wrongful termination. Marrying your partner should be a time of joy, not of fear about losing your job. At the California Department of Justice, we’ll continue to stand up for marriage equality in our state and across the country.”

Despite existing precedent, the defendants in the current case are pushing an expansive legal theory that, if accepted by the appellate court, could significantly undermine employment discrimination laws across the country. While courts have recognized that the First Amendment’s religion clauses confer an exception from certain employment discrimination laws for “ministerial” employees, the parties in this case stipulated that the exception does not apply to the plaintiff, a drama teacher. Nevertheless, the defendants are urging the appellate court to shield them from liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for terminating the plaintiff because of his same-sex marriage, a clear violation of protections against sex-based discrimination.

In the amicus brief, the attorneys general, among other things, assert:

  • The government has a compelling interest in eliminating sex discrimination in employment, and Title VII and similar statutes are narrowly tailored to that goal;
  • Neither the U.S. Supreme Court nor the Fourth Circuit has ever upheld an expressive association claim in the context of employment;
  • The defendants’ theory of expressive association would badly undermine employment discrimination laws; and
  • The Fourth Circuit should affirm the district court’s decision in favor of the plaintiff.

In filing the amicus brief, Attorney General Bonta joins the attorneys general of Massachusetts, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington. 

A copy of the amicus brief is available here.

# # #