On Monday, June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court momentously ruled that federal law designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace protects gay, lesbian and transgender employees. In Bostock v. Clayton County, the Court held that individuals who identify as LGBTQ cannot be turned away from a job based on their sexual orientation.
Previously, though Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination based on someone’s “sex,” the Court had yet to rule on whether this term extended to LGBTQ employees. In Bostock, the Court dealt with three separate cases where employees were fired for being gay or transgender. In one case, child welfare advocate Gerald Bostock was fired soon after joining a gay softball league in Georgia. Similarly, the late Donald Zarda was fired after telling coworkers at a New York skydiving center that he was gay. Finally, the late Aimee Stephens, a funeral home worker in Michigan, was fired after she told her employer that she would be identifying as a woman.
Delivering the Court’s 6-3 opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch concluded that the term “sex” in Title VII applies to one’s identification as LGBTQ. As Gorsuch wrote, “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.”
The majority’s ruling marks a pivotal victory for LGBTQ employees and provides clarity to employers on the issue. Employers should review their policies to make sure sexual orientation and gender identity are included as protected classes in anti-discrimination policies. In addition, training going forward should include LGBTQ discrimination.
Please see our previous posts on this issue: