WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects LGBT people from discrimination in employment, a resounding victory for LGBT rights from a conservative court.
The court decided by a 6-3 vote that a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as Title VII that bars job discrimination because of sex, among other reasons, encompasses bias against LGBT workers.
“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. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court.
“The Court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous. Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity,’” Alito wrote in a dissent that was joined by Thomas.
The outcome is expected to have a big impact for the estimated 8.1 million LGBT workers across the country because most states don’t protect them from workplace discrimination. An estimated 11.3 million LGBT people live in the U.S., according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA law school.
The cases were the court’s first on LGBT rights since Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement and replacement by Kavanaugh. Kennedy was a voice for gay rights and the author of the landmark ruling in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States. Kavanaugh generally is regarded as more conservative.
The Trump administration had changed course from the Obama administration, which supported LGBT workers in their discrimination claims under Title VII.
During the Obama years, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had changed its longstanding interpretation of civil rights law to include discrimination against LGBT people. The law prohibits discrimination because of sex, but has no specific protection for sexual orientation or gender identity.
In recent years, some lower courts have held that discrimination against LGBT people is a subset of sex discrimination, and thus prohibited by the federal law.
Efforts by Congress to change the law have so far failed.
The Supreme Court cases involved two gay men and a transgender woman who sued for employment discrimination after they lost their jobs.
The federal appeals court in New York ruled in favor of a gay skydiving instructor who claimed he was fired because of his sexual orientation. The full 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 10-3 that it was abandoning its earlier holding that Title VII didn’t cover sexual orientation because “legal doctrine evolves.” The court held that “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.”
That ruling was a victory for the relatives of Donald Zarda, who was fired in 2010 from a skydiving job in Central Islip, New York, that required him to strap himself tightly to clients so they could jump in tandem from an airplane. He tried to put a woman with whom he was jumping at ease by explaining that he was gay. The school fired Zarda after the woman’s boyfriend called to complain.
Zarda died in a wingsuit accident in Switzerland in 2014.
In a case from Georgia, the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled against Gerald Bostock, a gay employee of Clayton County, in the Atlanta suburbs. Bostock claimed he was fired in 2013 because he is gay. The county argues that Bostock was let go because of the results of an audit of funds he managed.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Bostock’s claim in a three-page opinion that noted the court was bound by a 1979 decision that held “discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.”
Aimee Stephens lost her job as a funeral director in the Detroit area after she revealed to her boss that she had struggled with gender most of her life and had, at long last, “decided to become the person that my mind already is.” Stephens told funeral home owner Thomas Rost that following a vacation, she would report to work wearing a conservative skirt suit or dress that Rost required for women who worked at his three funeral homes. Rost fired Stephens.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled that the firing constituted sex discrimination under federal law.
Stephens died last month.
House Minority Leader Crystal Quade D-Springfield issued the following statement: “Discrimination against the LGBT community has always been wrong. With today’s ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court acknowledges that it also violates federal law. For everyone who cherishes fairness, equality and treating people with dignity, this is a cause for great celebration.
“We are hopeful Missouri courts will follow this precedent and rule that existing state laws prohibiting sex discrimination also protect LGBT Missourians from being denied employment or housing based solely on who they are. However, since the Republican majority in Jefferson City filed the most anti- LGBT bills in the country this past session, Missouri must get on the right side of history. We will continue the two-decade-plus push for passage of the Missouri Nondiscrimination Act to ensure that our statute aligns with today’s decision and provides everyone with equal protection under the law while combating the extreme Republican agenda against our loved ones. “
Democrat Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway released this statement:
Columbia, Mo. (June 15, 2020) – Today, Auditor Nicole Galloway made the following statement on the United States Supreme Court ruling that Title VII protects LGBTQ+ Americans from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity:
“Today’s landmark ruling is an enormous win for equality and fairness for LGBTQ+ Missourians. This is about more than just a legal precedent. It’s about their right to live, work, and take care of their loved ones with dignity.
In Missouri, we must now seize this moment and move forward. That starts with Governor Parson and other officials in Jefferson City affirming and implementing today’s ruling immediately. There can be no delay.
But while today is an important step, we have so much further to go in this fight. Our legislature has failed to pass the Missouri Non-Discrimination Act, meaning LGBTQ+ Missourians can still face discrimination in their everyday lives like housing and in public places like restaurants, stores, schools, nursing homes, and even public transportation. LGBTQ+ youth can still be subjected to abusive and discredited practices like conversion therapy. And LGBTQ+ Missourians continue to face unacceptable and disproportionate levels of violence.
No Missourian should be left to fight alone for their rights or dignity. As Governor, I will do everything in my power to protect and support our LGBTQ+ family, friends, and neighbors.”