Supreme Court Rules Civil Rights Law Protects LGBTQ Workers

This entry was posted on Thursday, June 18th, 2020 and is filed under Employment Law.

“The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, handing the movement for L.G.B.T. equality a long-sought and unexpected victory”, as written in the article ‘Civil Rights Law Protects Gay and Transgender Workers, Supreme Court Rules’ by Adam Liptak on June 16, 2020 via The New York Times. Find the full publication, Supreme Court decisions, top article takeaways and our KVK Perspective below.

FULL ARTICLE HERE | FULL SUPREME COURT DECISION HERE

ARTICLE TAKEAWAYS

On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court decided by a 6-3 vote that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin and sex, encompasses bias against LGBT workers.  Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first appointment to the Supreme Court, wrote the opinion on behalf of the majority.  President Trump remarked to reporters that he read and accepted the decision and found it to be “very powerful”. 

The Court considered three cases.  The first case was filed by Gerald Bostock, a gay man who was fired from his job as a child welfare advocate for Clayton County, Georgia, shortly after he joined a gay softball league.  The second case was brought by a skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, who also said he was fired because he was gay.  The third case involved gender identity, where Aimee Stephens, who was fired from a Michigan funeral home after she announced in 2013 that she was a transgender woman and would start working in women’s clothing.

Justice Gorsuch wrote for the majority: “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.”

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, it was legal in more than half of the states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender. The decision is vastly consequential in that it extended workplace protections to LGBT workers across the nation, continuing a series of Supreme Court victories for gay rights.

The three dissenting judges wrote two separate opinions expressing a concern that the Supreme Court assumed the role of the legislature in its ruling, since the drafters of Title VII in 1964 did not have sexual orientation or transgender status in mind.  Justice Alito also expressed concern that the decision left open questions about access to restrooms and locker rooms, the impact on sports, college housing, religious employers, health care, and free speech.

However, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s second appointment to the Supreme Court, noted in his dissent “… 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 in their daily lives. They have advanced powerful policy arguments and can take pride in today’s result.”

THE KVK PERSPECTIVE

KVK applauds the Supreme Court in reaching its critical decision. The Supreme Court’s decision is a historical and important victory for all LGBTQ Americans.

California has long been at the forefront of fighting discrimination against the LGBT community.  The Unruh Civil Rights Act of 1959, was interpreted in 1984 in Rolon v. Kulwitzky to prohibit discrimination by businesses against individuals on the basis of sexual orientation.  In 2000, AB 1001 reformed the California Fair Employment and Housing Act of 1959 and broadened employment, housing, and credit protections for the LGBT community.  The law was expanded to protect transgender people from unfair discrimination in 2003. The Unruh act was formally amended by the Civil Rights Act of 2005, ensuring that state laws prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations include gender identity, sexual orientation and marital status.

The Supreme Court’s decision affirmed the right of LGBT individuals who say they were discriminated against in the workplace based on their sexual orientation or gender identity to file lawsuits under Title VII.  Under both Title VII and California law, plaintiffs will have to offer evidence of the discriminatory treatment and employers may respond that they had reasons unrelated to discrimination for their employment decisions.  However, as Justice Gorsuch explained, “an employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex. It doesn’t matter if other factors besides the plaintiff ’s sex contributed to the decision… Title VII’s message is “simple but momentous”: An individual employee’s sex is ‘not relevant to the selection, evaluation, or compensation of employees..’ Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U. S. 228, 239 (1989) (plurality opinion).”

By Alex Beyzer, June 18, 2020


KVK appreciates that the Supreme Court has extended workplace protections for the LGBT community to the rest of the nation.  As always, KVK’s employment law team stands ready and eager to help employees that have been wrongly discriminated against at their workplace. protect your legal employment rights, give us a call today.