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Supreme Court Ruling Protects LGBTQ Employees Against Workplace Discrimination

In a landmark ruling issued during Pride month, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting gender discrimination in employment, bars employers from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation or transgender status.

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

The 6-3 opinion in Bostock v. Clayton County, GA, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, summarized the Court’s decision in the following way: “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 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.” Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Chief Justice John Roberts joined the majority opinion. Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Bostock claimed he was fired from his position as a social worker after he joined a gay softball league. The Court also heard two other cases concerning whether the Title VII ban on gender discrimination applies to LGBTQ workers: R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, which involved a transgender woman who was fired because of her gender identity and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, concerning a gay man who was fired because of his sexual orientation.

Prior to today’s ruling, 22 states and the District of Columbia had statutes protecting workers based on sexual orientation and 21 states and the District of Columbia had statutes protecting workers from discrimination based on gender identity. Now, employees across the country who work for employers with 15 or more workers are protected by federal law against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

One of the dissenting opinions recognized:

“it is appropriate to acknowledge the important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans. Millions of gay and lesbian Americans have worked hard for many decades to achieve equal treatment in fact and in law. They have exhibited extraordinary vision, tenacity, and grit – battling often steep odds in the legislative and judicial arenas, not to mention their daily lives. They have advanced powerful policy arguments and can take pride in today’s result.”

Arent Fox celebrates its colleagues and clients who are counted among the millions of LGBTQ Americans who over the years and in numerous ways have advanced powerful arguments on behalf of the LGBTQ community and who can rightly take pride in today’s result.

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