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Historic Decision by United States Supreme Court: Title VII Protects LGBTQ Employees
In a landmark decision issued on June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Resolving a longstanding split among federal courts as to whether Title VII’s protections extend to LGBTQ employees, the Court ruled 6-3 that Title VII’s prohibition on sex-based employment discrimination encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.
The Basics of Title VII
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin (i.e., protected classes). The law applies to any public or private sector employer with 15 or more employees, employment agencies, labor unions, and training programs.
Title VII makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate in any aspect of employment, including recruiting, hiring, promoting, training, terminating, and providing benefits. Additionally, Title VII prohibits employers from retaliating against employees for complaining about discrimination, filing a charge of discrimination, and/or participating in an investigation of discrimination or legal proceeding.
The Court’s Decision
The Court’s decision is in response to a trio of consolidated cases (captioned Bostock v. Clayton County) alleging employment discrimination: a child welfare coordinator was fired after his employer learned of his participation in a gay softball league; a skydiving instructor was fired after informing a customer that he is gay; a transgender funeral director was fired after telling her boss about her plans to transition.
In all three cases, the employee asserted unlawful sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. Rejecting an argument by the employers that Title VII only prohibits sex discrimination on the basis of an employee’s status as a male or female, the Court declared that it is impossible for employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity without impermissibly discriminating based on sex. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch opined, “An employer who discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees necessarily and intentionally applies sex-based rules.”
The Court’s full opinion can be accessed here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/17-1618_hfci.pdf
Takeaways for Employers
Employers should review their employment policies and practices to ensure compliance with the Court’s ruling. Specifically, employers should make certain that their anti-discrimination policies include express language prohibiting discrimination and/or harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Employers should also consider conducting employee training addressing anti-discrimination and harassment policies.
For more information regarding the implications of the Court’s decision, please contact attorneys John Conley or Kylie Mote at (602) 792-3500.