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Supreme Court Rules LGBTQ Workers Protected From Discrimination

Woden judge mallet symbol of law and justice with lgbt flag in rainbow colours. Lgbt rights and law
By Andrew Leonatti on June 15, 2020 | Last updated on June 17, 2020

In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court ruled on Monday that federal workplace anti-discrimination laws cover gay and transgender workers.

The 6-3 ruling brings immediate relief to millions of LGBTQ workers across the country, who can no longer be fired or otherwise punished simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTQ Discrimination Is Sex Discrimination, Court Says

In its ruling, the court stated that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans workplace discrimination based on race, color, sex, national origin, pregnancy, disability, age, and religion, also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Chief Justice John Roberts joined justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Neil Gorsuch in issuing the ruling. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.

In his written opinion, Gorsuch wrote:

"The answer is clear. 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."

In short, the court ruled that treating a gay or transgender worker differently than they would from other employees because they don't conform to "traditional" norms is illegal discrimination.

The case combined the lawsuits of two workers, one in Georgia and one in New York, who said they were fired soon after coming out as gay, and a lawsuit from a Michigan woman who was fired after telling her employers of her gender transition.

What This Means

In the 56 years since the Civil Rights Act's passage, many states passed their own laws and constitutional amendments protecting LGBTQ workers from workplace discrimination. But not all laws were the same, and transgender workers were not protected in some of those states. There were also 28 states with no protections for LBGTQ workers at all.

In 2015, under orders from the Obama administration, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission began interpreting Title VII to cover sexual orientation and gender identity. However, that could have been undone at any point, and the Trump administration sided with employers' right to discriminate in this case.

Now, the court's ruling provides strong protections to workers across the entire country.

That means, if you are a member of the LGBTQ community, your boss cannot take the following actions against you based on your sexual orientation or gender identity:

  • Firing you or refusing to hire you
  • Giving you a poor performance review
  • Denying you a promotion
  • Docking your pay
  • Refusing to give you the same duties as other people in your position
  • Retaliating against you for reporting discrimination

If you are the victim of any of the above practices, and you suspect discrimination is the reason, you can talk to an employment law attorney about your case. A lawyer will be able to help you evaluate your options for seeking relief.

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