Features, On-Campus Profiles, Profiles

Greenfield Applies Civil Rights Lens to Corporate Law Research and Practice

After getting pickpocketed in Rio de Janeiro, finding a girlfriend in Ecuador, and watching Bruce Springsteen perform in Argentina, Kent Greenfield decided to attend law school. 

Greenfield received his undergraduate degree at Brown University and worked in politics in his early 20s, but he could not decide if he wanted to be a teacher or a lawyer. Following a year of travel in South America, Greenfield said he chose to go to law school instead of pursuing a master’s degree in education. 

“I figured if I got a law degree, I could then teach,” Greenfield said. “Going to law school was the choice that opened more doors.” 

Reflecting on his decision to go into law, Greenfield said his upbringing had a large influence on him. Greenfield was raised in a small town in Kentucky, where his dad was a minister and his mom was a school teacher. His parents always showed concern and compassion for other people, and Greenfield said he tries to carry these values into his work as a law professor who fights for human rights. 

“It’s pretty understandable that I ended up as a teacher that tries to use my efforts in service of something—in service of issues that I care about and justice that I want to pursue,” Greenfield said. 

After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School and working as a corporate lawyer for a year, Greenfield became a professor at Boston College Law School, where he has worked for over 27 years. 

“I still remember the dean calling me with the offer and being so thrilled,” Greenfield said. “I moved into my office at BC and I’ve been in the same building ever since.” 

Greenfield said he continues to teach at BC because he feels free to be transparent about his opinions in his professional work while also engaging in productive dialogue with students and colleagues. 

Finnegan Schick, one of Greenfield’s students and BC Law ’24, said Greenfield’s greatest strength is creating a space in his classes for students to share their opinions about divisive issues

“Professor Greenfield gives space in his classes for the kinds of human and humane conversations that are honestly necessary when we’re talking about charged political issues,” Schick said. 

Additionally, Greenfield added that BC allows him to explore a wide variety of topics within the law field. Most law professors are forced into a narrow branch of academic work, Greenfield said, but he has studied everything from corporate law to constitutional law to economic theory.  

“This place has really given me the chance to do all the kinds of things that I want to have in my daily life,” Greenfield said. “Because I don’t want to just be one thing—I want to be a bunch of things.” 

Though Greenfield has researched many subjects, he is an expert in constitutional and corporate law. He said that most of his work involves issues of civil rights and corporate governance. 

Greenfield’s two areas of expertise have become increasingly intertwined, he said. According to Greenfield, this is a direct result of the 2019 Supreme Court case Citizens United v. FEC, where the Supreme Court ruled that corporations should be granted freedom of speech. Greenfield said that because of this ruling, his recent work has combined issues of constitutional and corporate law. 

“The reality is that the Court is seeing corporations and businesses as holders of rights,” Greenfield said. 

The 2022 Supreme Court case 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis also combines issues of corporate and constitutional law, Greenfield said. This case involves a Colorado woman who runs a business creating wedding websites. She argued that her company should not have to make websites for same-sex couples due to freedom of religion. Yet, the state of Colorado prohibits businesses from discriminating based on sexual orientation. 

“The state’s interest in non-discrimination in the marketplace is conflicting with the business’s claimed interest in only producing these websites that are consistent with their underlying religious beliefs,” Greenfield said. 

In June 2022, Greenfield submitted an amicus brief—an argument in a court case filed by a third party—in the 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis case. Greenfield then traveled to Washington, D.C. in December 2022 to listen to the case’s oral arguments. 

In his brief, Greenfield argues that companies are separate from the individual who runs them. This means that, according to Greenfield, 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis is not questioning the business owner’s personal freedom of religion. Instead, the case asks if freedom of religion should be granted to a corporation that is required to adhere to the state’s non-discriminatory law. 

“This is one of those areas actually where my interest in corporate law and constitutional law have really come together,” Greenfield said. “Because now, you can’t talk about first amendment stuff without also talking about corporations.” 

Greenfield submitted his brief with the help of two of his students—Cory Greer, BC Law ’24, and Therese Juneau, BC Law ’24. Juneau said that working on this project was especially significant because Greenfield taught her constitutional law class, so she could apply insights from the class into a real case.  

“[Getting] to put your hands on something that’s being filed with the Supreme Court … is … really thrilling,” Juneau said.

Though the 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis case involves issues of corporate law, Greenfield said the case is mostly about human rights and non-discrimination. These topics are familiar to Greenfield because of his prior work experience, he said. In fact, Greenfield submitted a brief on the 2018 Supreme Court case Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, which he said is a strikingly similar case to 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis

“The key case that most people will remember is the Masterpiece Cakeshop case,” Greenfield said. “It was about a bakery, and the bakery refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.”

In the brief he authored for Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, Greenfield said he made the same argument he did in the 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis case: The Supreme Court does not need to grant religious freedom to for-profit businesses. 

“The problem with Masterpiece Cakeshop and the problem with 303 Creative … is that the claim is actually from the individual—it’s the individual authorizing their religious views,” Greenfield said. “And the company and the individual are not the same.” 

Though both Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission and 303 Creative LLC v. Elenis are recent cases, Greenfield said he has advocated for the expansion of LGBTQ+ rights for 20 years. In 2003, Greenfield sued the Pentagon over its anti-gay policies, and in 2006, Greenfield was the plaintiff in Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic and Institutional Rights, Inc., the Supreme Court case that resulted from his lawsuit. 

Though Greenfield lost this Supreme Court case, he said that he does not view it as a defeat because this case eventually led to a much broader recognition of LGBTQ+ rights. 

“We were essentially saying that the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy was discriminatory,” Greenfield said. “Even though we lost that battle, I think that the war was eventually won.” 

Both in his work fighting for LGBTQ+ rights and working as a teacher, Schick said that Greenfield cares a lot about honoring people’s personal identities. According to Schick, Greenfield’s compassion and humane disposition are what make him stand out—as a lawyer and as a professor. 

“I think that Professor Greenfield embodies the best of BC Law,” Schick said. “When I was thinking about where to go to law school, I heard about all of the good qualities that BC Law had, and I think that Professor Greenfield has demonstrated to me that those are true.”

April 30, 2023