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Gender Discrimination: US Supreme Court Cases

Gender discrimination — sometimes called sex discrimination — is a form of discrimination that includes many different aspects of everyday life.

Sex discrimination happens when you're treated unfavorably based on your sex, or biological characteristics. This includes discrimination due to your gender identity or sexual orientation. Gender discrimination is a type of sex discrimination. Gender refers to socially constructed characteristics of males and females. The terms "gender" and "sex" are often used interchangeably.

It is illegal to treat someone unfairly or inappropriately due to their sex. There are many anti-discrimination laws in place. Americans have constitutional rights, state laws, and agencies to protect these rights. One agency that handles gender discrimination employment decisions is the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

To add more protection, courts have also extended coverage of sex discrimination to include:

  • Discrimination due to pregnancy
  • Sexual harassment
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity (being transgender or identifying as nonbinary)

Still, the scope of federal gender discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ individuals is unsettled. These issues remain contentious.

Important Gender Discrimination Cases

Below is a list of U.S. Supreme Court cases involving gender discrimination and women's rights. Each case gives a short summary and includes links to the full text of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions.

Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur (1974)

The Supreme Court found that Ohio public schools' mandatory maternity leave rules for pregnant teachers violate due process guarantees under the Constitution.

Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson (1986)

The court held that a claim of "hostile environment" sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination and a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Johnson v. Transportation Agency (1987)

The court decided that a county transportation agency appropriately considered an employee's sex as one factor in determining her promotion eligibility. This was not considered workplace discrimination based on gender.

Franklin v. Gwinnett County Public Schools (1992)

The court decided that an award of monetary damages is possible in a case brought to enforce Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and alleging sexual harassment and abuse by a teacher.

J.E.B. v. Alabama ex rel. T.B. (1994)

The court held that prosecutors may not use peremptory challenges to dismiss jurors based on sex.

United States v. Virginia (1996)

The court found that sex-based "separate but equal" military training facilities are in violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

Faragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998)

The court decided that an employer may be liable for sexual discrimination caused by a supervisor. Still, liability depends on the reasonableness of the employer's conduct, as well as the reasonableness of the plaintiff victim's conduct.

Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services Inc. (1998)

The Supreme Court held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment can form the basis for a valid claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education (1999)

The court created guidelines for lawsuits under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. They said a lawsuit may be filed against a school board based on student-on-student sexual harassment if:

  1. The board is deliberately indifferent to sexual harassment
  2. The board has actual knowledge of the harassment

Additionally, the harassment must be severe. It needs to be so severe that it deprives the victims of access to educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.

Jackson v. Birmingham Board of Education (2005)

The court held that an individual could bring a retaliation claim under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. They can bring a claim when retaliated against for speaking up about discrimination on the basis of sex.

Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. v. White (2006)

The court determined that a company's indefinite suspension of an employee to avoid sexual harassment claims constituted unlawful retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Bostock v. Clayton County (2020)

This is considered a landmark case. The court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

This ruling clearly states that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are sex discrimination under the act. They are illegal under federal law.

In reaching its decision, the Supreme Court acknowledged terminology. The justices said Congress contemplated that the term “sex" referred to “status as either male or female [as] determined by reproductive biology" when enacting Title VII.

However, Congress could have prohibited discrimination “solely" because of sex. But it did not.

Have You Been Mistreated Because of Your Gender? Get Professional Legal Help

Have you been mistreated due to your gender when seeking housing, employment, or education?

You may have a claim for gender discrimination. Being discriminated against because of your gender is illegal.

Don't hesitate to take action. The best way to defend your rights is to discuss these issues with an experienced civil rights attorney familiar with discrimination claims.

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