LGBTQ Employees are Protected Under Civil Rights Law
On Monday, June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court revealed a landmark decision regarding the rights of LGBTQ employees throughout the United States by ruling that “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
What Led to this Decision?
The Supreme Court’s ruling was based on three (3) separate cases. The first two (2) cases regarded sexual orientation. In Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., Gerald Bostock was terminated from his employment after his employer became aware that Bostock joined a gay softball league. In Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, Donald Zarda was a sky diving instructor who was fired for being gay.
The third case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, involved gender identity. Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman, was terminated from her employment after she announced that she was going to have reassignment surgery and was going to start wearing woman’s clothing to work.
The Supreme Court’s Ruling
In the 6-3 decision, written by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, the Supreme Court had to interpret the meaning of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin, and sex. Specifically, the Supreme Court had to decide whether the last prohibition, discrimination based on sex, applies to gay and transgender employees. Ultimately, the Supreme Court concluded that sex is interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identify.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. alluded to the fact that in making this decision, the majority abandoned its judicial role because it did not interpret any statute since “discrimination ‘because of sex’ was not understood as having anything to do with discrimination because of sexual orientation or transgender status in 1964.” Justice Clarence Thomas joined Justice Alito’s dissent. Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh wrote a separate dissent, but again reiterated Justice Alito’s argument of statutory interpretation.
Prior to this ruling, it was legal, in more than half of the states, for an employer to fire an employee for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. However, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, the LGBTQ community is made up of approximately 1 million workers who identify as transgender and 7.1 million lesbian, gay and bisexual workers. Therefore, this decision greatly impacts the lives of millions of LGBTQ employees across the United States.