In Landmark Ruling, U.S. Supreme Court Finds LGBTQ Workers Are Protected Under Title VII
“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
The Supreme Court ruled today that an employer who discriminates against an individual on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark decision for LGBTQ workers.
The majority opinion in the 6-3 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, GA (consolidated with Zarda v. Altitude Express Inc. and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC), was authored by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. He was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
The opinion was largely based on the text of Title VII. As the majority notes:
“In our time, few pieces of federal legislation rank in significance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There, in Title VII, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is 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. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision; exactly what Title VII forbids.”
In July 2019, NELA and The Institute joined the Impact Fund in filing an amicus brief in the United States Supreme Court (S.C. 17-1618, 17-1623, 18-107) in support of the Petitioners in Bostock and Zarda, and Respondent in Harris, addressing not only the pervasive workplace discrimination LGBTQ workers face, but also the lack of clarity that exists in applying workplace protections to those who are discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
Rates of discrimination against LGBTQ individuals in the workplace are much higher than those of other workers. According to a poll developed by Harvard University, “Among all LGBTQ Americans, at least one in five report having personally experienced discrimination because of their sexuality or gender identity when applying for jobs (20%), when being paid equally or considered for promotion (22%).” LGBTQ low-wage workers, LGBTQ workers of color, and LGBTQ immigrants face even higher rates of workplace discrimination. Many LGBTQ workers remain closeted at work, unsure if courts can and will hold those who discriminate against them accountable.
“NELA celebrates this victory in solidarity with our LGBTQ staff, members, coalition partners, and workers across the country. We will continue empowering NELA members as they advocate on behalf of LGBTQ workers,” said Karen Maoki, Interim Executive Director. ”We also honor the perseverance and sacrifice of the workers in each of these cases—Gerald Bostock, Aimee Stephens, and Donald Zarda. Although Ms. Stephens and Mr. Zarda passed away before this decision came down, their courage and the tireless of efforts of their advocates have changed the American workplace for the better.”