U.S. Supreme Court Decision Bars Workplace Discrimination Against LGBTQ Employees

Posted by: Chris

In a 6-3 decision handed down today, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 barring sex discrimination in the workplace also protects LGBTQ employees from being fired or disciplined based on their sexual orientation.

In a surprise 6-3 ruling, the Court found that, "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."

Two conservative justices -- Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Neil Gorsuch -- joined Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan in the majority.

Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch recognized that while Congress may not have anticipated the application of Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination to gay and transgender employment rights, “the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extratextual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit."

The Court’s ruling encompasses three separate cases: Gerald Bostock of Clayton County, Georgia, who worked as a child welfare advocate before being fired for joining a gay recreational softball league; the estate of Donald Zarda, who worked as a skydiving instructor in New York before being fired because he was gay; and Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman who was fired from her job as a funeral home director in Garden City, Michigan.

"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," Gorsuch wrote.

Today’s ruling is being heralded as a landmark for LGBTQ rights in the U.S.  Laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity protect employees in 22 states and the District of Columbia, but there has been no federal law that specifically bars such discrimination.  Oklahoma currently has no explicit prohibitions for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in state law.

Justice Alito’s dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Thomas, accused the majority of legislating from the bench by adopting a textual interpretation of Title VII: "There is only one word for what the Court has done today: legislation." 

Justice Kavanaugh also penned a dissenting opinion, writing that, "Both the rule of law and democratic accountability badly suffer when a court adopts a hidden or obscure interpretation of the law, and not its ordinary meaning."

Has your employer violated your rights under the federal employment or labor laws? If so, seek legal representation from the experienced attorneys at Armstrong & Vaught, P.L.C. right away. Our team will work tirelessly to hold your employer—or employers in a joint employment relationship—accountable. Call us now at 918-582-2500, toll free at (800) 722-8880, or contact us online for a free consultation with a skilled attorney.