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Shell workers would have lost pay if they missed Trump speech at plant

54 0 18 Aug 2019

Thousands of union workers at a western Pennsylvania petrochemical plant were given a choice last week — show up for President Donald Trump’s speech on Wednesday or stay home and lose some of their weekly pay.

One of the construction site’s contractors wrote in rules for the speech ahead of the event that employees’ attendance was “not mandatory,” though it said only those who arrived at 7 a.m. with their work IDs scanned and stood for hours to wait for the president would be paid for their time.

“NO SCAN, NO PAY,” those rules, which were handed out to employees prior to the speech, read. That memo was first reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which noted that those who opted against attending Trump’s address would have an excused, unpaid absence and would not qualify for overtime pay on Friday. The publication reported workers were told “anything viewed as resistance” to Trump was prohibited. The speech was arranged to foster “good will” with building trade unions, The Post-Gazette added.

Ray Fisher, a spokesman for Shell, told NBC News in an email that workers who opted to stay away from the speech would still be paid for the week, but less than those who scanned in and were on site Wednesday.

The day “was treated as a training (work) day with a guest speaker who happened to be the president,” Fisher said, adding the company does “these several times a year with various speakers.”

Fisher said a morning session ahead of the speech, which focused on “safety training and other work-related activities” began at 7 a.m. and lasted for three hours.

Set to focus on energy policy, Trump’s speech at the new multi-billion dollar Royal Dutch Shell facility in Beaver County, which will convert natural gas into plastic, often veered into other subjects. Trump claimed the presidency was “costing me a fortune” he estimated to be between $3 and $5 billion. Trump said he was “going to speak to some of your union leaders to say, ‘I hope you’re going to support Trump.’ Okay?”

“And if they don’t, vote them the hell out of office because they’re not doing their job,” he added. “It’s true. It’s true. Vote them out of office.”

The warehouse Trump spoke in was packed with workers in yellow and orange vests who had been bussed in from part of the massive construction site. Two workers, who declined to speak on the record, told NBC News they were missing their lunch break to attend and had packed snacks in their pockets because they weren’t allowed to bring in food.

Several workers said a lot of people didn’t show up because they don’t like Trump, particularly the strong union supporters. One worker said he didn’t really want to come, but thought it would look bad to miss a day of work and wanted to get his full pay.

The event went past 3 p.m., when many of the workers’ regular shift ended — causing workers to worry they wouldn’t get paid for the extra time they spent holding in the warehouse.

Dozens of workers tried to leave early, before Trump had even finished as 3 p.m. approached, but they were told Secret Service wouldn’t let them out of the warehouse until Trump had left the property. After his speech ended, Trump took a tour of the construction site.

Once Trump had finished speaking the workers were still being held and were letting out boos and angry shouts because they weren’t being let out. At 3:30 p.m., a plant employee tried to calm the crowd and let them know they would be getting paid for the time they were still there.

The site employs at least 5,000 people and is one of the largest in America. There are at least two dozen construction cranes here rising out of the rolling hills — a feature Trump made note of in his address.

“Getting this massive job done right has required more than 1,500 pieces of heavy equipment; one of the largest cranes anywhere in the world — I look forward to seeing it,” Trump said. “I love cranes. I loves trucks of all types. Even when I was a little boy at four years old, my mother would say, ‘You love trucks.’ I do. I always loved trucks. I still do. Nothing changes. Sometimes, you know, you might become President but nothing changes. I still love trucks, especially when I look at the largest crane in the world. That’s very cool. Do you think I’ll get to operate it? I don’t know. We’ll put the media on it, and I’ll give them a little ride, right?”

The White House hopes the massive construction project will serve as a symbol of the Trump economy in a key swing state. When complete, the facility will employ about 500 workers manufacturing plastic pellets made from ethane, a byproduct of fracking, that can be used in products like food packaging and auto parts.

The White House and Shell did not immediately respond to requests for comment from NBC News.

Tens of thousands rally in Hong Kong as China condemns U.S. lawmakers support

64 0 18 Aug 2019

HONG KONG — Protesters turned Hong Kong’s streets into rivers of umbrellas Sunday as they braved heavy rain to march in a show of strength.

The latest in a months-long series of demonstrations was being seen as a measure of popular support for the pro-democracy movement, with recent rallies marked by violent clashes with police that have garnered increasing global attention.

The large turnout suggested the movement retains widespread support as it continues to push for greater freedoms amid Beijing’s growing influence over the former British colony.

Frustration with a lack of progress and what protesters see as a heavy-handed police response have led to escalation, most recently after protesters occupied the city’s international airport last week.

Some activists apologized after flights were canceled and clashes turned violent.

Organizers said they hoped Sunday’s assembly would be peaceful.

“We hope that there will not be any chaotic situations today,” said organizer Bonnie Leung. “We hope we can show the world that Hong Kong people can be totally peaceful.”Police had approved the rally, sending alerts to phones throughout the territory urging people to stay within the confines of Victoria Park.

The crowd seemed to draw its members from the broader base that characterised the movement’s early mass protests. The mix of young and elderly, couples and families did not obey the police request, marching from the park to fill a major road in one of Hong Kong’s busy shopping districts.

But the atmosphere was less charged after weeks of tense and sometimes violent standoffs with police.

“Hong Kong people, keep going,” the crowd chanted.

In Beijing, meanwhile, a spokesman for China’s ceremonial legislature condemned statements from U.S. lawmakers supportive of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

You Wenze called the lawmakers’ comments “a gross violation of the spirit of the rule of law, a blatant double standard and a gross interference in China’s internal affairs.”

Beijing has struck an increasingly strident tone over the protests in recent days, accusing foreign countries including the United States of fomenting unrest.

You did not mention any specific lawmaker, but numerous U.S. senators and Congress members, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have affirmed the U.S. commitment to human rights and urged the Hong Kong government to end the standoff.

President Donald Trump has largely steered clear of criticizing China over its response, though last week he did link the humane resolution of the protests to ongoing trade talks between the two countries.

Members of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police force have been training for days across the border in Shenzhen, including on Sunday morning, fueling speculation that they could be sent in to suppress the protests.

The Hong Kong police, however, have said they are capable of handling the protests.

Reuters contributed.

#MyPalestinianSitty trends after Rep. Rashida Tlaib refuses Israels offer to see her grandmother

55 0 18 Aug 2019

Palestinians shared sweet and sometimes harrowing stories of their grandmother’s lives on social media Saturday after Michigan Democrat Rep. Rashida Tlaib announced she wouldn’t be visiting her grandmother in the West Bank.

Tlaib announced Friday she would not visit her grandmother in the West Bank after Israel placed what she called “oppressive conditions” on her trip. The announcement came after Israel initially denied entry to Tlaib and Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar, two Muslim Congresswomen, over their support of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, known as BDS.

“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter — reflecting just how undemocratic and afraid they are of the truth my trip would reveal about what is happening in the State of Israel and to Palestinians living under occupation with United States support,” she said in the statement.

Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said in a statement that Israel had decided to approve Tlaib’s entry for “a humanitarian visit” to her grandmother.

“I approved her request as a gesture of goodwill on a humanitarian basis, but it was just a provocative request, aimed at bashing the State of Israel. Apparently her hate for Israel overcomes her love for her grandmother,” Deri said in a tweet Friday.

In response, social media users took to Twitter to post the stories of their Palestinian grandmothers, many of whom survived war. The hashtag #MyPalestinianSitty began to trend, as “sitty” is the Arabic word for “my grandmother.” Tlaib and Omar retweeted and liked many of the posts.

“#MyPalestinianSitty is trending and I am overcome with emotions realizing how we are finally humanizing one of the world’s most dehumanized peoples,” Omar tweeted Saturday.

Tlaib shared a photo of one of her grandmothers with the hashtag and wrote, “This was my other #MyPalestinianSitty who no one could mess with. She was proud of being from #BeitHanina and was one fierce woman.

Tlaib’s living grandmother, Muftia Tlaib, told NBC News that she was sad her granddaughter wouldn’t be able to visit her. Muftia Tlaib, who is in her 80s, said the two haven’t seen each for about five or six years.

“I hope, inshallah, that she will come back,” she said. “I’m waiting for her.”

The suffering will continue: Groom mourns 63 killed at Afghan wedding amid U.S. withdrawal talks

63 0 18 Aug 2019

KABUL, Afghanistan — At least 63 people, including women and children, were killed after a suicide bomber struck at a crowded wedding party in the Afghan capital on Saturday.

Another 182 people were injured in the late-night blast.

The deadliest attack to hit Kabul this year comes as the Trump administration appears to be on the verge of signing a peace deal with the Taliban to end the 18-year conflict, America’s longest war.

The Taliban was quick to deny responsibility and condemn the attack, while the so-called Islamic State’s local affiliate claimed it was responsible. NBC News has not verified the claims.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani didn’t mince words.

“Taliban cannot absolve themselves of blame, for they provide platform for terrorists,” Ghani said on Twitter before the ISIS claim of responsibility. He declared a day of mourning and calling the attack “inhumane.”

The groom, identified only as Mirwais, told Afghan news channel TOLOnews that the blast went off as the marriage ceremony was about to get underway.

“I won’t ever be able to forget this however much I try,” Mirwais said in the interview on Sunday.

He added that many of his relatives and neighbors were among the dead.

The bomber detonated his explosives near the stage where musicians were playing.

Amid the carnage were blood-covered chairs, crushed music speakers and a pile of abandoned shoes.

“I can’t go to the funerals, I feel very weak,” Mirwais said.

“I know that this won’t be the last suffering for Afghans,” he added. “The suffering will continue.”

A wedding invite, shared on social media after the deadly attack, urged guests to celebrate “with a world of hope and desire” — but the prospect of a new era free of the violence that has scarred the country for decades seemed only more distant on Sunday as families began to bury the dead.

Some helped to dig graves with their bare hands.

The blast took place inside a wedding hall in a western Kabul neighborhood that is home to many of the country’s minority Shiite Hazara community.

ISIS has claimed responsibility for many deadly attacks against the community since the militant group emerged in Afghanistan in 2014.

The explosion came a few days after the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, with Kabul residents visiting family and friends, and just ahead of Afghanistan’s 100th Independence Day on Monday.

“Devastated by the news of a suicide attack inside a wedding hall in Kabul. A heinous crime against our people; how is it possible to train a human and ask him to go and blow himself (up) inside a wedding?!!” presidential spokesman Sediq Seddiqi said in a Twitter post.

Meanwhile, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid on Sunday sought to emphasize the claim that his group condemned the attack.

“Such barbaric deliberate attacks against civilians including women and children are forbidden and unjustifiable,” Mujahid said in a statement Sunday.

Saturday’s blast was the second major attack in the capital this month.

On Aug. 7, a Taliban suicide car bomber targeted a police station, killing 14 people and wounding 145, most of them civilians.

Just days before, U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad reported “excellent progress” in talks to negotiate a peace deal and said he was hoping for a final agreement by Sept. 1.

The deal would see the United States withdraw troops from Afghanistan by a specific deadline, in return for the Taliban promising not to allow the country to be a staging ground for terrorist groups, agreeing to a ceasefire and sitting down for peace talks with the Afghan government led by Ghani, which has been largely sidelined from peace discussions after the Taliban dismissed it as a U.S. puppet.

But while there is a deep thirst for peace in Afghanistan, many fear the talks between the United States and the Taliban will not halt the conflict but merely see the end of American involvement.

NBC News reported earlier this month that President Donald Trump had told his advisers he wanted to pull all U.S. troops out of Afghanistan by the November 2020 presidential election.

Seddiqi, the presidential spokesman, said Saturday that his government was waiting to hear the results of Trump’s meeting Friday with his national security team about the negotiations.

“Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan” the president tweeted on Friday. “Many on the opposite side of this 19 year war, and us, are looking to make a deal – if possible!”

In another twist that could complicate the peace talks, Hafiz Ahmadullah — a brother of Taliban leader Haibatullah Akhundzada — was killed in a bomb attack on a mosque in Pakistan on Friday.

There was no claim of responsibility, but senior Taliban members told NBC News the talks with the U.S. will continue despite Ahmadullah’s death and they were “quite optimistic” about their success.

Ahmed Mengli reported from Kabul, Mushtaq Yusufzai from Peshawar, Pakistan and Yuliya Talmazan from London.

Associated Press contributed.

Alabama girl wore tux for senior portrait. Her school yearbook left her picture out.

54 0 18 Aug 2019

An Alabama high school student who wore a tuxedo for her senior portrait instead of the traditional black drape for girls received her yearbook only to discover that her photo was missing.

Holley Gerelds, who graduated this year from Springville High School, told NBC affiliate WVTM in Birmingham that she wanted to be herself in her senior portrait so she asked the photographer if she could wear a tuxedo.

“It’s what I’m more comfortable in,” she told the outlet. “I feel like if I was to wear the drape it’s not me.”

Holley Gerelds says a photographer allowed her to take her senior portrait with a tux instead of a drape. WVTM

Traditionally, female seniors at the high school in Springville northwest of Birmingham wear a V-neck, black- velvet drape for their portraits.

Gerelds, who according to WVTM is part of the LGBT community, said it would have been “kind of humiliating” to have to wear the drape.

The photographer agreed to let Gerelds wear a black tux, but when she received her yearbook earlier this week she noticed that her portrait was not published. Instead, her name was listed on a back page as “Not Pictured.”

“I hate to say it, but I’m used to it. I saw it coming,” she told WVTM. “I feel like I did nothing wrong. I paid, I was on time.”

Mike Howard, superintendent of the St. Clair County School District, said in a statement that senior portraits “were taken in accordance with long-standing school guidelines,” adding that the district is “reevaluating those guidelines to consider what changes, if any, need to be made.”

The superintendent said the school will reprint a page of the yearbook to include all students.

“I can confirm that the composite photograph of the Springville High School Class of 2019 will include all students that participated in the senior portrait process, regardless of their choice of attire,” Howard continued.

Gerelds said she hopes this incident will be a turning point for the school and that students will be able to “wear what they want.”

Video shows rescue of cruise-ship passenger in wheelchair who fell from dock into water

64 0 17 Aug 2019

Two local men in St. Thomas in the Virgin Islands rescued a Carnival cruise ship passenger in a wheelchair who had fallen from a dock into the water.

In a video of the rescue posted Monday on Facebook, the woman is seen in the water gripping a life ring that had been thrown to her as two men, identified as Kashief Hamilton and his friend, Randolph Donovan, hold on to her to keep her from going underwater.

Two men rescued a women whose wheelchair rolled off a dock in the Virgin Islands.Randall Donovan

Rescuers on the dock are seen in the video using a rope that had been tied around the woman to hoist her out of the water. Once she is back on the ground, a crowd cheers as personnel tend to the woman.

A spokesperson for Carnival Cruise Line said in a statement that the woman was a guest on their Carnival Fascination cruise ship and was being escorted in the wheelchair by a family member when she accidentally fell off the dock.

The woman did not sustain any injuries, the spokesperson said.

Donovan, 34, is a resident of the U.S. Virgin Islands who said he works as a stilt dancer for the local Department of Tourism providing entertainment for visiting cruise ship passengers. He told NBC News in an interview on Saturday that he was working a shift when he heard a commotion at the dock.

When he ran over to see what was going on, Donovan said he saw a woman in her wheelchair struggling in the water.

“I jumped straight in the water from the top level of the dock,” he said. “I removed her from the wheelchair because I didn’t want the wheelchair to sink with her in it.”

Donovan said a life ring was dropped into the water for the woman to hold onto. As he was trying to keep the woman from going underwater, Donovan said he started to feel fatigued and told Hamilton he couldn’t hold on to the woman for much longer.

“I jumped in the water and I swam to them,” said Hamilton, who is also a resident of the Virgin Islands and who said he works as a DJ with the Department of Tourism. Donovan “went from trying to rescue her and now he’s trying to survive. I can’t lose my friend, so I jumped in.”

Cruise ship staff members on the dock threw a rope down to the men. Hamilton said he tied the rope around the woman and then held onto her and Donovan until rescuers on the dock could pull them out.

The Carnival Cruise Line spokesperson said the woman received a complimentary wheelchair to use for the rest of the trip.

“Our most sincere thanks and appreciation to these individuals for their heroic efforts in assisting this guest,” the company said.

Far-right rally in Portland met by anti-fascist protesters

60 0 17 Aug 2019

A rally of far-right groups was met by a large counterdemonstration in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday.

Fears that the showdown would turn violent prompted some downtown businesses to close and led to a massive police presence, but the event remained relatively calm.

The dueling demonstrations garnered national attention, including from President Donald Trump, who tweeted earlier Saturday in reference to self-described anti-fascists, some of whom are known collectively as antifa, “Major consideration is being given to naming ANTIFA an “ORGANIZATION OF TERROR.” Portland is being watched very closely. Hopefully the Mayor will be able to properly do his job!”

The Portland Police Bureau tweeted about 30 minutes after the protests started at 11 a.m. that officers were there to protect people’s right to speak freely.

“PPB and our partners are here to protect everyone’s safety while facilitating everyone’s 1st Amendment right to gather and speak. It is the foundation of our democracy and critical to Portland’s identity,” police tweeted.

Nearly an hour after the demonstrations began, police said they seized weapons from participants including bear spray, shields, and poles.

Authorities were also receiving reports of individuals carrying weapons and wearing protective equipment trying to infiltrate opposing groups at multiple locations.

Demonstrators face-off against each other in Portland, Ore., on Aug. 17, 2019.Karen Ducey / Getty Images

The far-right demonstration was organized by members of the Proud Boys, whose founder has described it as a “fraternal organization” for young “Western chauvinist” men. The goal of the so-called “End Domestic Terrorism” rally, they said, was to get antifa, declared as a domestic terrorist organization.

One antifa protester at the rally, Skyler, told MSNBC that she wants “to show is that the far right has no place in America.”

Portland police worked with dozens of other agencies at the local, state and federal levels to maintain control of the demonstrations.

Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide in Manhattan jail cell, autopsy report says

51 0 17 Aug 2019

Jeffrey Epstein’s death has been ruled a suicide by hanging, the medical examiner’s office said Friday.

The determination capped days of speculation and conspiracy theories after the wealthy financier and accused sex trafficker was found unresponsive in his federal jail cell in lower Manhattan last Saturday.

The ruling wasn’t unexpected: multiple law enforcement officials had previously told NBC News that Epstein’s death was presumed to be a suicide.

The medical examiner’s office completed an autopsy on Sunday but indicated it was waiting for more information from investigators before releasing its final determination. The autopsy revealed that Epstein had broken a bone in his neck, a source told NBC News Thursday, an injury that can occur in a suicide by hanging.

The death sparked harsh criticism of the federal prison system and led former wardens and U.S. lawmakers to question how a high-profile inmate could get the opportunity to take his own life, especially after carrying out what was believed to be a previous attempt.

“We are not satisfied with the conclusions of the medical examiner’s office,” Epstein’s attorneys said Friday in a statement. “We will have a more complete response in the coming days.”

Epstein, 66, was locked up in a special housing unit at the Metropolitan Correctional Center where he was supposed to be checked by guards every 30 minutes.

But a period of hours passed before correctional officers looked in on his cell, and investigators were probing whether they had fallen asleep, multiple officials have told NBC News.

The Justice Department, which oversees the federal prison system, took swift action. The facility’s warden was ordered reassigned and the two guards tasked with watching Epstein were placed on leave in the days after the incident.

Attorney General William Barr has said there were “serious irregularities” at the federal jail and insisted investigators “will get to the bottom of what happened and there will be accountability.”

“His safety was the responsibility of the MCC. It is indisputable that the authorities violated their own protocols,” Epstein’s attorneys, Martin G Weinberg, Reid Weingarten and Michael Miller, said in their statement. “The defense team fully intends to conduct its own independent and complete investigation into the circumstances and cause of Mr. Epstein’s death …”

They added that they would take legal action if necessary to view prison security videos.

Epstein was arrested July 6 on sex trafficking and conspiracy charges. Prosecutors say he sexually abused dozens of underage girls at his homes in New York and Florida in the early 2000s. Epstein was also accused of paying his victims to recruit others, allowing him to build a vast network of girls to exploit.

His lawyers asked a judge to allow him to await trial under house arrest at his Manhattan mansion, but the request was denied.

Less than three weeks before his death, Epstein was found unresponsive in his cell, with marks around his neck, in what authorities were investigating as a suicide attempt.

He was placed under suicide watch in a special cell with near round-the-clock observation. But he was removed less than a week later and returned to the special housing unit, where he was held alone in his cell and apparently left unchecked for hours.

Rep. Rashida Tlaibs grandmother in West Bank still hopes for a visit

45 0 17 Aug 2019

BEIT UR AL-FOQA, West Bank — Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother says she does not understand what all the hubbub is about — why can’t her granddaughter, an important person in America, stop by for a visit?

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her — five to six years. But sometimes I see her on TV and talk with her on the phone,” said Muftia Tlaib as she sat in the family’s sun-washed garden in territory Israel has occupied since 1967. “Why didn’t they allow her to come here?”

On Friday, Rashida Tlaib announced she was canceling a visit to this small village, just hours after Israel changed its tune by granting the Michigan Democrat permission to go.

“I can’t do anything. I’m really very sad,” her grandmother, who is in her 80s, told NBC News on Saturday. “I hope, inshallah, that she will come back. I’m waiting for her.”

Muftia TlaibKhaldoon Eid / NBC News

Tlaib’s planned visit to Israel and the West Bank was initially blocked by Israel. The government then granted her permission for the purpose of “a humanitarian visit” on the condition she promised to not promote boycotts against the country. Tlaib, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants, initially agreed to the conditions, but later rejected the offer.

“The Israeli government used my love and desire to see my grandmother to silence me and made my ability to do so contingent upon my signing a letter — reflecting just how undemocratic and afraid they are of the truth my trip would reveal about what is happening in the State of Israel and to Palestinians living under occupation with United States support,” Tlaib said in a statement.

Israel controls travel into and out of the West Bank, which it captured during the Six-Day War of 1967 — along with eastern Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Tlaib said on Twitter that traveling to the region under the proposed conditions that would restrict her discussions with Israelis and Palestinians would “kill a piece of me.” The conditions were offered a day after Israel said it was barring her and fellow Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota from visiting the country and accused them of attempting to “boycott and negate Israel’s legitimacy.”

Despite the disappointment over having to forgo meetings, meals and ceremonies in Tlaib’s honor, other Palestinians NBC News spoke to said they backed her decision, saying they’d prefer she visited as a U.S. representative than as an ordinary citizen on a family trip.

Jameel SulimanKhaldoon Eid / NBC News

“We were happy that she decided not to come,” said Hayyat Tlaib, 52, the wife of the congresswoman’s uncle. “She is a valuable person for us and we want her to represent herself as a U.S. congresswoman.”

Jameel Suliman, 52, who operates a plant nursery in the village, said he recognized the power Tlaib would have if she came in an official capacity.

“It would mean a lot and change a lot for the Americans,” he said. “She would see the reality of the occupation, of Palestinians’ suffering, and then she could pass it to Congress and the American people.”

Leaders of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, known as BDS, also voiced their support for Tlaib’s decision.

“Attempts by Israel’s far-right regime to humiliate @RashidaTlaib failed. Palestinians do not bow to oppressor’s diktats,” the Palestinian BDS National Committee said on Twitter.

Under Israeli law, BDS supporters can be denied entry to Israel.

President Donald Trump — a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — defended Israel’s position, saying on Twitter the country had “acted appropriately.”

It’s not the first time Trump has lashed out at Tlaib, who is a member of “the squad” that includes three other newly-elected left-wing Democrats — Reps. Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, all of whom are women of color.

In a series of tweets last month, Trump said the congresswomen should “go back” to the “broken” countries they came from. Trump’s comments drew sharp criticism.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also said he was in favor of Israel’s initial barring of Tlaib given her criticisms of the country. He told reporters in Washington on Thursday, “If you openly joined an international movement to destroy the state of Israel, then you’ll suffer the consequences.”

Lawahez Jabari reported from Beit Ur al-Foqa, and Linda Givetash from London.

Trans workers not protected by civil rights law, Trump admin tells Supreme Court

88 0 17 Aug 2019

The Trump administration on Friday filed a brief with the Supreme Court arguing that transgender workers are not protected by federal civil rights law and can be fired because of their gender identity.

The brief was submitted in a case concerning Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who was fired from a Detroit funeral home after she informed her employer that she was beginning her gender transition. The case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, et al., is one of three cases concerning LGBTQ workers’ rights that the Supreme Court is expected to hear this fall.

Aimee Stephens and her wife Donna, right.Courtesy ACLU

The brief, submitted by Solicitor General Noel J. Francisco and other Department of Justice attorneys, argues that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, “does not bar discrimination because of transgender status.”

“In 1964, the ordinary public meaning of ‘sex’ was biological sex. It did not encompass transgender status,” the brief states. “In the particular context of Title VII — legislation originally designed to eliminate employment discrimination against racial and other minorities — it was especially clear that the prohibition on discrimination because of ‘sex’ referred to unequal treatment of men and women in the workplace.”

If the Supreme Court sides with the Trump administration, it will be overturning a decision by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with Stephens in March 2018.

“Discrimination against employees, either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status, is illegal under Title VII,” Judge Karen Nelson Moore wrote in the 6th Circuit’s decision. “The unrefuted facts show that the Funeral Home fired Stephens because she refused to abide by her employer’s stereotypical conception of her sex.”

Moore added that requiring the Christian business owner, Thomas Rost, “to comply with Title VII’s proscriptions on discrimination does not substantially burden his religious practice.”

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), the conservative legal group that had petitioned the high court to hear the Stephens case, said the lower court overstepped its bounds by “redefin[ing]” the term “sex” in Title VII to “mean something other than what Congress clearly intended.” Just hours before the Trump administration submitted its brief, ADF submitted one of its own, arguing that “judicially rewriting sex discrimination in Title VII will spill over into other federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination.”

“It will deny women and girls fair opportunities to compete in sports, to ascend to the winner’s podium, and to receive critical scholarships,” the ADF brief states. “It will also require domestic-abuse shelters to allow men to sleep in the same room as female survivors of rape and violence. And it may dictate that doctors and hospitals provide transition services even in violation of their religious beliefs.”

In addition to Stephens’ case, the Supreme Court is set to hear two cases dealing with workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Those cases — Zarda v. Altitude Express and Bostock v. Clayton County — will be consolidated.

The Trump administration has made its position clear on the scope of sex discrimination in Title VII, so Friday’s amicus brief did not come as a surprise to those following the cases. In July 2017, the Department of Justice submitted an amicus brief with the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the Zarda case opposing the extension of Title VII discrimination protections on the basis of sexual orientation. And in October 2018 — prior to the Supreme Court decision to hear the Stephens case — the DOJ filed a brief with the high court siding with the funeral home. In the Stephens case, the federal government is pitted against itself, since the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is a defendant in the case.

The Supreme Court will hear the cases next term, which begins in October.

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