Yesterday, the US Supreme Court ruled on a landmark case stating that federal law protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination. By a vote of 6-3, the court said Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate because of a person’s sex, among other factors, also protects sexual orientation and transgender status. This upheld rulings from lower courts that said sexual orientation discrimination was a form of sex discrimination.
“An employer who fired an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Gorsuch wrote for the court. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
“Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result,” he wrote, adding, “But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”
The decision is historic for a many reasons, including that it provides nation-wide protection for LGBTQ employees, rather than the mixture of state and local laws that currently prohibit LGBTQ discrimination. Across the country, 21 states have their own laws prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In 7 states, that protection is only provided to public employees. While these laws will remain in force, Monday’s ruling means federal law now provides similar protection for LGBTQ employees in the rest of the country.
Advocates of gay rights and for the nascent transgender rights movement consider the Supreme Court ruling that federal law forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status, a major victory. Many transgender and gay rights groups consider the case highly significant and even more important than the fight to get the right to marry, as nearly every LGBTQ adult is or needs to have a job.
“The Supreme Court’s clarification that it’s unlawful to fire people because they’re LGBTQ is the result of decades of advocates fighting for our rights,” said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project. “The court has caught up to the majority of our country, which already knows that discriminating against LGBTQ people is both unfair and against the law.”
Sarah Kate Ellis, the president and CEO of GLAAD, said, ”The Supreme Court’s historic decision affirms what shouldn’t have even been a debate: LGBTQ Americans should be able to work without fear of losing jobs because of who they are.”
At Howard Stallings, we see this ruling as major shift in the employment law landscape and a defining moment for our country and the LGBTQ community. LGBTQ people deserve equal treatment throughout our society, including in the workplace. We applaud the Supreme Court’s decision, which further underlines that federal law protects their right to fairness. Employers are now prohibited from discriminating against LGBTQ employees and those who do so are subject to Title VII’s considerable reach and remedies against unequal treatment.
Our dynamic team of skilled attorneys and litigators provide a wide range of employment services to both individuals and businesses. We have successful experience helping businesses define the boundaries of their employer-employee relationships and advise on compliance with applicable laws and regulations.
If you believe you have been discriminated in your workplace for any reason, we can help you navigate the path to justice. As a business owner, we can help make sure your employment policies provide for nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We are here for you when you need us most.