Supreme Court Issues Historic Decision Outlawing Workplace Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Transgender Status

Employment Law Insider & Alert

PUBLISHED ON: June 15, 2020

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Yesterday, in a historic decision, the United States Supreme Court ruled that existing federal law prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status.

Writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch, an appointee of President Trump, held the Court’s conclusion was 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.” Thus, sex plays a necessary and indistinguishable role in that decision, which is exactly, in the Court’s view, what Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids.

The Supreme Court’s decision resolved a dispute among the circuit courts regarding this issue. Each of the three cases before the Court involved circumstances where an employer fired an employee shortly after the employee revealed that he or she is homosexual or transgender. Those employees each brought suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex. In one case, the Eleventh Circuit held the law does not prohibit employers from firing employees for being gay, and thus, dismissed the suit as a matter of law. The Second Circuit, in contrast, concluded in a second case that sexual orientation discrimination does violate Title VII and allowed the case to proceed. In the third case, the Sixth Circuit agreed with the Second Circuit, holding that Title VII prohibits firing employees because of their transgender status.

The Court’s decision rested on its interpretation of Title VII, finding that “from the ordinary public meaning of the statute’s language at the time of the law’s adoption, a straightforward rule emerges: An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex,” and “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.....

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