Historic Win for LGBTQ Rights
This June had a special day for the LGBTQ community because the Supreme Court banned LGBTQ employment discrimination in a 6-3 vote. In 2020. Many people would have thought members of the LGBTQ community were able to work freely without fearing termination because of their sexuality, but this wasn’t always the case.
The Fight for Equality
So why now, and how long has this fight toward equality persevered? In the cases brought in front of the court, an employer allegedly fired a long-time employee for being either homosexual or transgender. In Clayton County, Georgia, Gerald Bostock was fired for “unbecoming” conduct shortly after he joined a gay recreational softball league. Next, Donald Zarda was fired from Altitude Express after he mentioned being gay. Additionally, Harris Funeral Homes fired Aimee Stephens, who represented herself as a male when she was hired, after she informed her employer of her plans to “live and work full-time as a woman.” All three employees sued, alleging that Title VII does not prohibit employers from firing employees for being gay.
The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari and held that if an employer that fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender, they are violating Title VII. Although Title VII does not specifically mention sexual orientation or transgender status, federal appeals courts in Chicago and New York have ruled recently that gay and lesbian employees are entitled protection from discrimination. The issue in front of the Supreme Court was whether Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, protects LGBT people from job discrimination. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Bostock’s claim in a three-page opinion noting that the court was bound by a 1979 decision that held “discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.”
In what many found to be a shocking turn of events, Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Supreme Court’s four liberal-leaning justices to comprise the majority ruling. In the opinion, Justice Gorsuch strictly construed Title VII’s command as “unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Justice Gorsuch interpreted the statute in accord with the meaning of its terms at the time of its enactment in 1964 and he wrote that “those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result . . . but the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”
The court ultimately ruled that an individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. Making employment decisions based upon these factors is simply another form of sex discrimination. Additionally, the court gave the following, very poignant, hypothetical: an employer has two employees, both of whom are attracted to men. The two employees are identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other a woman. If the male employee was fired for no reason other than the fact he was attracted to men, the employer would be discriminating against him. This hypothetical goes to show that the Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock provides much needed clarity to employers and employees alike. Going forward, it is now clearer than ever that it is unlawful to discriminate against employees based upon their sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, as times continue to change and society becomes even more adamant and louder in its fight for equality, we hope to see the Supreme Court act as it did in this landmark case and grant decisions aligned with what the people are begging for: equality.
If you or someone you know was discriminated against for their sexuality, contact a business law lawyer, like a business law lawyer in Arlington, TX, today.
Thanks to Brandy Austin Law Firm for their insight into the Supreme Court ruling in June for LGBTQ equality in the workplace.