June 19, 2020 | by Linda Wong, CEO & Partner
On Monday, June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. With a 6 to 3 majority vote in an opinion written by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, the court ruled that such discrimination by an employer would be motivated, at least in part, by sex, and therefore forbidden under Title VII. The court considered three cases, two of which were lawsuits from gay men who were fired because of their sexual orientation, and one suit from a transgender woman who was fired when she announced that she would embrace her gender identity at work.
Upon the passing of Title VII, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin. While the common understanding of the prohibition of sex in 1964 may not have encompassed discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, the court explained that “the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”1 In turn, the court ruled that:
|an employer who fires an individual for begin 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 undistinguishable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.2|
The first two cases which formed the basis of the decision were Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618 and Altitude Express v. Zarda, No. 17-1623. In the former, Gerald Bostock worked for a decade as a child welfare advocate in Clayton County, Georgia, and was fired after joining a gay recreational softball league. The second case was filed by Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor at Altitude Express in New York, who was fired shortly after announcing he was gay. The last case involving transgender rights, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, No. 18-107, was brought by Aimee Stephens, who was fired from a Michigan funeral home after she announced in 2013 that she was a transgender woman and would start to embrace her identity in wearing women’s clothing at work. Both Zarda and Stephens have since passed away, but their estates continued to press their causes on behalf of their estates.
References Bostock v. Clayton County Georgia, 590 U.S. _ (2020)