Reason to Celebrate: Supreme Court Holds that Employers Cannot Discriminate Against LGBTQ+ Employees

Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear.”

“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

 

In today’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the Supreme Court made clear that the anti-discrimination protections of Title VII apply to LGBTQ+ persons across the country.

This important decision came out of three cases. Gerald Bostock worked as a child welfare advocate in Clayton County, Georgia for a decade. After he joined a gay softball league, he was fired for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee. In his case, the Eleventh Circuit decided that Title VII does not prohibit employer from firing employees for being gay.

Donald Zarda was a skydiving instructor in New York. Days after mentioning to his employer that he was gay, he was fired. The Second Circuit determined that his firing was illegal under Title VII.

Aimee Stephens worked for a funeral home in Garden City, Michigan. When she started her position, Ms. Stephens presented as male. Two years later, she informed her employer that she was going to begin living and working full time as a woman. The funeral home fired her telling her “this is not going to work out.” The Sixth Circuit reached a decision that Title VII bars employers from firing employees because of their transgender status.

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the cases to finally resolve that Title VII protections extend to LGBTQ+ persons.

The employers made numerous arguments that were soundly rejected by the Court. The majority opinion explained that the plain language of Title VII protects LGBTQ+ persons: “As enacted, Title VII prohibits all forms of discrimination because of sex, however they may manifest themselves or whatever other labels might attach to them.” In rejecting the employers’ argument that Congress did not intend Title VII to apply to discrimination based on being LGBTQ+, the Court responded: “In fact, many now-obvious applications [of Title VII] met with heated opposition early on, even among those tasked with enforcing the law.”

Prior to today’s decision, only 21 states (as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico) had laws explicitly banning workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Although California was one of the states that explicitly prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees, the anti-discrimination protections now apply across the country.

In 2017, the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing added new regulations which expanded the Fair Employment and Housing Act to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the bases of gender, gender identity, gender expression, and transgender persons. At the time, we wrote a blog post about those changes, as well as the Justice Department’s brief in Mr. Zarda’s case.  Three years later, the Supreme Court has now made clear that employers cannot fire employees because they are LGBTQ+. As the Supreme Court indicated, this decision has been a long time coming. We agree, and are happy that this decision comes during Pride month.

 

If you believe that you have been subjected to discrimination at work because you are LGBTQ+, please contact our offices to discuss what options you may have.