U.S. Supreme Court ruling protects LGBTQ workers from job discrimination

By: - June 15, 2020 11:16 am
LGBT flags

Now is the time to codify protections for LGBTQ people in federal law. (Photo by Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — In a landmark victory for LGBTQ rights, the U.S. Supreme Court held Monday that employers can’t legally fire people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

In a 6-3 opinion, the court ruled that employers who fire individuals “merely for being gay or transgender” violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex and other characteristics — but not specifically gender identity or sexual orientation.

Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first appointee to the high court, and Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s four liberal justices in the case. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh filed dissenting opinions.

“An 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,” wrote Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion. “Sex  plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

The ruling will have a profound effect on millions of LGBTQ people and their families. Nearly 5% of U.S. adults — more than 11 million people — identify as LGBTQ, according to Reuters, and large percentages report workplace discrimination. More than 40% of lesbian, bisexual and gay people — and 90% of transgender people — have faced employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation, according to court documents.

President Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, hailed the “historic” decision Monday. “No one should be denied a job or fired simply because of who they are or whom they love,” he said in a statement.

But he said more work remains. The high court legalized gay marriage in 2015, but about half of states lack statutes protecting LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., agreed.

She pointed to legislation passed last year by the U.S. House that would amend existing civil rights law to explicitly cover sexual orientation and gender identity and make other changes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., “must end his partisan obstruction and allow the Senate to vote on this critical legislation,” she said in a statement.

Justices heard cases last fall involving plaintiffs who argued they were wrongfully fired because of their gender orientation and sexual identity.

Aimee Stephens — a transgender woman from Michigan — was fired after she informed her boss she planned to transition from male to female.

Gerald Bostock of Georgia and Donald Zarda of New York were fired after their employers learned of their sexual orientation. Zarda, a skydiving instructor, was fired after informing a customer of his sexual orientation.

Gerald Bostock of Georgia, who was working as a court-appointed special advocate for abused and neglected children in Clayton County, lost his job after joining a gay recreational softball league seven years ago.

“I lost a dream job that I had, I lost my income and I lost my medical insurance at a time that I was recovering from prostate cancer,” 56-year-old Bostock, who now lives in Atlanta, said during a livestreamed press conference held Monday after the ruling was announced.

“But I learned early on with this that it’s always been about so much more. It’s such a bigger issue than just my own personal experiences,” he said.

At a time of civil unrest nationally, Bostock said he hopes people see the ruling as a “step in the right direction for our country.”

“There is absolutely no room in this world for discrimination or racism,” Bostock said, “And I hope this celebration — that we’re all sharing in today — that it sheds a little bit of light in the dark days that we’ve had across this country in the past few weeks.”

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.