Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The case before Claude M. Hilton, chief judge of the Eastern District of Virginia, was filed against the U.S. Department of Labor. The department had denied employee Don Terrill participation in a "diversity day" celebration because he wanted to set up a Confederate-American exhibit.
Terrill's lawsuit survived the government's motion for dismissal. He was defended by Kirk D. Lyons, chief trial counsel of Southern Legal Resource Center in Black Mountain, N.C.
Repeated calls to the Labor and Justice departments Friday produced no result.
Lyons said the government's position has been that "there's no such critter" as a Confederate-American under federal law, "and we would agree with that. This is a case of first impression," he said, meaning no court has yet addressed the issue.
The attorney said that "a good bit" of the government's argument hinged on the interpretation that the Confederate States of America was not a sovereign nation.
But even accepting that argument (which he doesn't), Lyons said that sovereignty was not determinative in national origin. "Look at the Armenians," he said. "If an Armenian is discriminated against by a Turk in the workplace, he would be accorded national-origin status."
He said that cases involving discrimination against Confederate-Americans in the workplace "are falling out of the trees."
Lyons told United Press International that the outcome "was the best that we were hoping for. We were not expecting to win today; we were hoping to survive the motion to dismiss."
The case will be appealed to the 4th Circuit Court in Richmond, Va.
Judge Hilton asked the plaintiff's attorneys why they did not file a claim under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees free expression. Lyons told the judge he knew that remedy was available, but he "specifically did not want to file a First Amendment claim because we wanted to test Title VII, Civil Rights Act of 1964 under national origin for Confederate-Americans."
Lyons added that his client probably could have won a First Amendment claim, "but that's not what we were in court for."
As an appeals court, the 4th Circuit has more latitude in its rulings than a district court.
"We're trying to make law," Lyons said, "and the way you make law is to lose. Every group that has gained protection under national origin had to start somewhere." Terrill "is not an isolated plaintiff," Lyons said. "We have cases all over the federal court system. … Eventually, one of these cases will go to the Supreme Court of the United States."
A related case in South Carolina is titled William Vanderhoff vs. John Deer. "Mr. Vanderhoff was fired for having a Confederate flag on his toolbox which he refused to remove," Lyons said.
The attorney agreed that some people might find it ironic that his group is using the civil rights laws to protect Confederate Americans.
"But there is a real problem of discrimination in the workplace, in the schools, and in society against people who are proud of their Confederate heritage," he said.
Lyons defines Confederate-Americans broadly, including those who are neo-Confederate "by marriage or affinity. We are not a majority; we are a minority."
To define a group for national-origin status, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission looks for cultural, linguistic and other differences. "Where we fit in definitely is the cultural part," Lyons told UPI. "People can adopt the nuances of another culture and graft themselves in."
Lyons characterized Confederate-Americans as "Israelites in Babylon's courts. If we want to get any justice, we're going to have to use the Babylonian law," especially to keep people from being fired.
"It's a tragedy of American life that we should have to" seek national-origin status, Lyons said, "but the ongoing Balkanization of the United States makes it necessary. I don't see an end to it."
Copyright 2001 by United Press International.
All rights reserved.
© 2021 Newsmax. All rights reserved.