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SCOTUS: LGBTQ Protected Class Under Civil Rights Act of 1964
June 15, 2020
In a landmark decision issued today, the Supreme Court of the Unites States ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender people. The case involved consolidated lawsuits filed by two gay persons fired due to their sexual orientation and a transgender woman fired after revealing plans to transition from male to female. The employers and the Trump administration argued that Congress did not intend for Title VII to protect LGBTQ persons and the term "sex" did not cover gay and transgender status.
In a 6-3 opinion authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, the majority held that 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." Explaining further, "[s]ex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids." The Court also clarified that an employer who intentionally fires a homosexual or transgender employee, even in part, because of this sex-based status "violates the law even if the employer is willing to subject all male and female homosexual or transgender employees to the same rule."
Prior to this decision, most federal courts interpreted Title VII to exclude sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. This ruling significantly alters the landscape of Title VII sex-based discrimination claims and is the most significant ruling on gay rights since the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right for gay couples to marry in 2015.
While the Court refused to speculate as to how their ruling would apply to other federal or state laws prohibiting sex discrimination, future legal challenges are expected. It is, however, worth noting that the Court's decision rested on a statutory interpretation of Title VII, which could be amended in the future.
If you have any questions regarding this ruling, or any labor and employment questions in general, please contact our Labor & Employment Practice Group.
Labor & Employment Law Eric E. Kinder