The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that it is illegal for an employer to fire someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The court’s 6-3 ruling marks a major victory in the fight for civil rights for LGBTQ people and extends the scope of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion, to include LGBTQ people.
“This is a significant ruling that goes far past the benefit and protections now offered to the approximately one million LGBTQ workers in the U.S.,” said Scott Cawood, president and CEO of WorldatWork. “This sends a very clear message that personal attributes such as sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be used when making employment decisions of any kind. WorldatWork has had 65 years of working for equity and equality in the workplace and we applaud this inclusive step forward.”
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The decision dealt with three cases. In one, Clayton County, Georgia employee Gerald Bostock was fired from his job as a child welfare advocate for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee soon after he joined a gay softball league. In another, New York skydiving instructor Donald Zarda was fired days after mentioning he was gay, and, in a third, Michigan funeral home worker Aimee Stephens was fired after she told her employer that she would be identifying as a woman six years into her employment.
Justice Neil Gorsuch authored the majority's opinion and noted that an employer that fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.
“Ours is a society of written laws. Judges are not free to overlook plain statutory commands on the strength of nothing more than suppositions about intentions or guesswork about expectations,” Gorsuch wrote. “In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee. We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
The question of whether Title VII prohibited LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace has been a point of contention in U.S. employment law in recent years. The ruling means federally mandated equal treatment for LGBTQ employees, which means employers should have policies that provide for nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
“This is a landmark decision for workplace equality,” said Deirdre Macbeth, Esq., content director, regulatory, at WorldatWork. “The Court’s determination that the prohibition of sex-based discrimination in the workplace extends to actions based on sexual orientation and gender identity ensures that equal protection under the law applies for all employees.”
About the Author
Brett Christie is the managing editor of Workspan Daily.