U.S. Supreme Court issues ruling extending federal job protection to LGBTQ Employees – Bostock v. Clayton County, GA
By Kirsten M. Grossman, on June 16, 2020
In a landmark 6-3 ruling, on Monday June 15, 2020 the United States Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBTQ employees from termination based on their LGBTQ status. The decision was surprising to many because it was issued by the now-conservative majority Supreme Court. The opinion was authored by Trump’s first pick for the highest Court, Neil Gorsuch.
The Court’s ruling is significant. Before Monday, LGBTQ workers were only protected in about half of the states by those states’ laws, as well as some local statutes such as the New York City Human Rights Law. New Jersey and New York state law also protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination based on that status. However, for LGBTQ employees in states where state and/or local law did not include protection for LGBTQ employees, those employees had no recourse for job-related termination or other discrimination. Monday’s ruling abruptly changed that, giving rise to a federal cause of action against any employer covered by the Title VII – including most employers with 15 or more employees.
Title VII, which prohibits sex and race discrimination, had not historically been interpreted to cover LGBTQ employees. In recent years, however, several federal appellate courts had held that Title VII does cover LGBTQ employees. The split in federal authority rendered the issue ripe for resolution by the Supreme Court.
In holding that Title VII protects LGBTQ employees, the majority held that because sex is a component of an individual’s gender identity or sexual orientation, an employer that fires an employee on one of these bases necessarily discriminates against that employee – at least in part – based upon sex.