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Supreme Court to hear 3 cases on LGBT workplace discrimination

In most states, LGBTQ Americans have no legal protections against discrimination in the workplace.

  • The Supreme Court will decide whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to gay and transgender people.
  • The court, which currently has a probable conservative majority, will likely decide on the cases in 2020.
  • Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws effectively extending the Civil Rights of 1964 to gay and transgender people.

The Supreme Court announced on Monday plans to hear three cases that will help decide the future of workplace rights for gay and transgender Americans. The key question the high court will answer is: Do workplace protections guaranteed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin, also apply to gay and transgender Americans?

It remains an open question among the nation's courts, legal scholars and politicians. For example, the Obama Administration-era Justice Department maintained that the law prohibits sexual-orientation discrimination in the workplace. The Trump Administration maintains the opposite view.

The Supreme Court will hear two cases related to sexual-orientation discrimination, and one involving discrimination against transgender people. Of the sexual orientation cases, one comes from New York's Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The court allowed the late Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, to sue his former employer, which Zarda alleged fired him because he was gay. The court found that "sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination."

In Atlanta, the 11th Circuit Court reached the opposite conclusion in a case brought by a child welfare services coordinator who alleged he was fired for being gay. The court wrote a brief opinion that stated "discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII," referring to the sex clause of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

To decide on whether the workplace protections of Title VII should extend to transgender people, the Supreme Court will also hear a case brought by a Michigan funeral home worker named Aimee Stephens, who alleged she was fired after declaring that she was transgender and would begin wearing women's clothing.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, decided that Title VII should also protect transgender people.

"It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee's status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee's sex," the court wrote, adding, "Discrimination 'because of sex' inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex."

Still, it remains unclear where the Supreme Court will fall on both issues when it hears the cases, likely in the first half of 2020. It's worth noting the recent departure of Justice Anthony Kennedy from the high court: Although Kennedy was appointed by a Republican administration, he often sided with the court's more liberal justices on issues of gay rights.

It's unclear how his successor Justice Brett Kavanaugh will decide on the upcoming cases.

Most U.S. states don't prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ Americans

In most U.S. states, there are no laws prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ people in the workplace, housing or public accommodations. According to the Movement Advancement Project, 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, while three states provide some form of LGBTQ workplace protections.

In other words, an estimated half of LGBTQ Americans live in places with no state or federal laws that prohibit sexual orientation- or gender identity-based discrimination. But that could change in an instant, if the Supreme Court decides the protects of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should extend to gay and transgender Americans.

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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type 'cnn.com'?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes cnn.com in 28th place, and foxnews.com in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of google.com, youtube.com, facebook.com, amazon.com and yahoo.com — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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