Is it Legal for the Boy Scouts to Discriminate?

In New York, it is illegal to make employment, housing, public accommodations, education, credit and decisions impacting civil rights based on a person’s sexual orientation. In 2000, however, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Boy Scouts in a decision involving a New Jersey public accommodation case which stated the organization need not comply with a state law barring anti-gay discrimination, so it is debatable if New York’s anti-discrimination employment law would apply to the group.

There are no federal laws, and most states also lack laws, prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation. In the New Jersey case, the organization removed a volunteer scout master when it was discovered he was gay and legal action ensued.

The nationwide organization has lifted its ban on gay youth but it continues to officially ban the use of homosexual volunteers and employment of gay workers. In early April, the New York City chapter announced it hired an openly gay Eagle Scout, eighteen year old Pascal Tessier of Maryland, to work as a summer camp leader, according to the Associated Press (AP), in defiance of the national organization’s policies.

A spokesman for the national group stated they were looking into the matter and their policies hadn’t changed. New York City Council Board Member Richard Mason told the AP that they notified the national office about the hiring but received “no comment or feedback” about it.

The AP reports that some local Boy Scout groups have accepted openly gay employees but the New York City’s Council’s hiring is an unusual public departure from the national policy, possibly the first time a council publicly announced that one of its adult employees is gay. The issue of homosexuality is sharply dividing the organization, with many local groups strongly in support of the ban on homosexual leaders and employees while others sharply disagree with it.

The Greater New York Councils serve approximately 46,000 young people in scout troops and other programs. About 9,000 boys (and girls) are expected in its summer camps this year.

After the controversial hiring of Tessier, New York’s Attorney General’s Civil Rights Bureau Chief Kristen Clarke wrote to the national Boy Scouts of America organization, reminding it that state and city laws prohibit hiring discrimination based on sexual orientation, according to another Associated Press story. Clarke cited state and city laws covering employment and stated, “Entities that operate in or are registered to do business in the state of New York must comply with these anti-discrimination requirements.”

If you live in the New York City area and feel you’ve been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation, Thomas M. Lancia can help. He handles all types of employment discrimination cases.  Call him at (212) 964-3157 today so you can talk about the situation, the applicable laws and your legal options for moving forward.