Acting Secretary Su to induct sweatshop workers, LGBTQ+ trailblazers into Department of Labor’s Hall of Honor
WASHINGTON – To celebrate and recognize extraordinary individuals whose distinctive contributions to the field of labor elevated working conditions, wages and overall quality of life of America's working families, the U.S. Department of Labor today announced new inductees into its Hall of Honor.
The inductions will begin on Sept. 18 with a ceremony at which Acting Secretary Julie Su will honor the hall’s first 2023 inductees, the El Monte Thai Garment Workers.
In August 1995, federal agents found 72 Thai workers toiling in a garment sweatshop in El Monte, California, sparking a national outcry and leading to a landmark case against human trafficking and forced labor. Through sheer determination and perseverance, the workers defied the odds and fought bravely for the freedom, rights and protections long denied to them. Their case galvanized significant changes in U.S. labor and immigration law. The workers remained in the U.S. and were provided a path to citizenship.
“The El Monte Thai garment workers serve as a lasting reminder of the importance of the Department of Labor’s mission to protect rights of all workers,” said Acting Secretary Su. “The importance of their contributions to labor and changes in federal labor and immigration laws cannot be understated. We are proud to recognize and welcome them to the department’s Hall of Honor.”
The department also announced that three individuals — Gerald Bostock, Donald Zarda and Aimee Stephens — will be inducted for their collective dedication to advancing workplace protections for the LGBTQ+ community. Each of their stories reflect the vital contributions they made to increasing workplace equity:
- Donald Zarda was living his dream as a skydiving instructor at Altitude Express in Long Island, New York, when, in 2010 he sought to ease a customer’s concern about being strapped to a male instructor by revealing to the woman that he was gay. After the customer later complained, Zarda’s employer fired him for misconduct. He sued his former employer alleging that they fired him based on his sexual orientation. In March 2014, the U.S District Court for the Eastern District of New York ruled in favor of Altitude Express. Although Zarda died in October of that year, his family appealed on his behalf, citing violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.
- Aimee Stephens informed her employer in 2013 that she was taking leave to undergo gender affirmation surgery and would begin presenting as a woman when she returned. The Detroit-based Harris Funeral Homes group then fired Stephens, offering a severance package in exchange for her silence. Instead, she sued her former employer for wrongful termination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and remained unwavering in her fight for civil rights until her death on May 12, 2020.
- Gerald Bostock, a child welfare advocate in Clayton County, Georgia, decided to join a gay recreational softball league in 2013 and it cost him his job and benefits. Without health care insurance, he balanced his recovery from prostate cancer with a determination and will to fight against discrimination. He sued the county, challenging previous findings that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act did not cover employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Bostock, Stephens and the Zarda family pursued their cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, and in June 2020 the court issued a 6-3 decision in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Induction ceremonies for Bostock, Stephens and Zarda will be announced at a later date.
Established in 1988, the Hall of Honor is located inside the north plaza of the department’s Frances Perkins Building at 200 Constitution Ave NW in Washington.