A landmark Supreme Court hearing on civil rights Tuesday comes close to home for an MU associate professor serving as an expert consultant.
Francisco Sánchez, an MU associate professor of counseling psychology in the College of Education, along with two others, was chosen as an expert for plaintiffs in the hearing on cases that involve workplace discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees.
The employees were terminated from their jobs because their employers believed that they failed to conform with expected sexual stereotypes based on their birth sex versus their gender identity, according to the American Psychologic Association amicus brief on the cases. In April, the Supreme Court agreed to hear arguments for the cases of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
"Our argument, in this case, is that we believe there was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in the sense that sexual orientation and gender identity are tied to sex," he said. "These individuals are being discriminated against because of sex and gender stereotypes."
Sánchez is trained as a counseling psychologist and completed a six-year postdoctoral program in human genetics and neurology. He was selected as an expert from more than 118,000 members of the American Psychological Association to help shape the amicus, or friend of the court, brief filed on behalf of the plaintiffs.
Their brief states: "Workplace discrimination against sexual and gender minorities is moreover associated with negative outcomes in psychological and physiological health. Sexual and gender minorities who experience discrimination in the workplace may also experience minority stress-related psychological distress and illness, substance use and even physical violence."
Sánchez said the role of the experts was "to work with the lawyers, the counsel office, to try to come up with the arguments that would be relevant for this case."
The American Psychological Association is a leading scientific and professional organization representing more than 118,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students, according to its website. Sánchez noted that the APA "is very conservative, in whatever they put out, whether it be amicus briefs, resolutions or guidelines. They want to make sure there is sound science before they put their stamp on it."
"The APA isn’t a litigate or party in this case, but this is an interest in our association," he said, explaining the APA’s interest in participating in the amicus brief. "We do take great interest in public welfare and social justice issues especially. Our role is to help inform the Court’s decision. The references are here in the brief. Our hope is that they’ll side with what we believe is right and will be able to rely on the sciences they need."
Sánchez’s expertise consists of biopsychological development of gender identity and sexual orientation, the influence of gender norms on the well-being of sexual minority men and transgender people and quality-of-life issues among people with disorders of sex development, according to the MU College of Education’s website.
"My interest area is how traditional gender norms, especially for men, as well as transgender people, affect well-being," he said. "I take in those arguments and think, 'What do we know about stigma in the workplace and how does that affect productivity?' and, 'How can we determine whether applicants are being discriminated against if they’re gender nonconforming or their sexual orientation is different?'"
Sánchez takes pride in working with the other expert consultants to help the lawyers decide the science behind their arguments, like studies, methodologies and statistical analysis.
"It’s an honor, humbling and also certainly unique to be right in the middle of the country where you wouldn’t think something like this would happen," he said. "It’s exciting and I’m hopeful the outcome will be positive."