The Supreme Court Does the Right thing for LGBTQ Individuals
Hali Marsocci and Corey B. Friedman
Yesterday, June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to LGBTQ individuals thereby protecting them from discrimination in the workplace. This is a major ruling, protecting gay and transgender employees from discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.
The ruling came about as the result of the Supreme Court hearing two cases: One involving Gerald Bostock – a County worker in Georgia who was fired from his job after he joined a gay softball team and more openly discussed the fact that he was gay; and the other, involving Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who was fired after he told a female client that she should not worry about being strapped to him because he is “100 percent gay”. These cases were the first the U.S. Supreme Court has heard since Justice Anthony Kennedy retired. Justice Kennedy had, up until yesterday, written all of the court’s major opinions involving the advancement of gay rights. (Justice Kennedy wrote the 2015 decision ruling that gay couples had a constitutional right to marriage).
Historically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, protected workers from discrimination based on race and sex. This ruling now extends those protections to sexual orientation. One of the differences between “sex” and “sexual orientation” is that “sex” is a biological mechanism and is different from one’s “sexual orientation”. Yesterday’s major gay rights ruling was written by one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s most conservative justices, Justice Neil Gorsuch. Justice Gorsuch, in his opinion, wrote “[a]n employer who fires 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. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.” Both Justice Gorsuch and Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who typically are very conservative, joined in the long overdue ruling.
While some states have enacted their own protections for LGBTQ individuals, some were left exposed under State and Federal law in states that did not enact such laws. This ruling, however, now extends this fundamental protection across the country irrespective of whether a particular state has anti-discrimination laws applicable to LGBTQ individuals.
Also, in another case involving Amy Stephens, the Supreme Court specifically extended these protections to transgender individuals. Stephens’ employment was terminated from a funeral home after she explained that she was transgendered. Now, firing on this basis will be prohibited based on yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
The Supreme Court’s ruling is one step closer for equality in the United States.
A link to the U.S. Supreme Court’s complete opinion can be found here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf.