Supreme Court Rules That LGBTQ People Have Employment Protections Under Federal Title VII Law

On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court made it unequivocally clear that Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is against the law for employers to discriminate against lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, and queer employees. This includes firing, harassing, or otherwise retaliating against these employees. This is the law in Texas; it is the law in New York; it is the law throughout the United States. While this is a most welcome Big Win for LGBTQ workers everywhere, we are still not yet out of the woods on employment of LGBTQ people.

Another shoe is about to drop in the U. S. Supreme Court. On the docket is a related matter concerning the ministerial exception of employment claims against churches and religious institutions. This decision is expected within months. While it is good to celebrate the victory for many LGBTQ employees, other LGBTQ employees are still experiencing harassment, discrimination and wrongful termination in workplaces defined as religious organizations.

Our Employment Lawyers Can Help You Fight Employment Discrimination, Retaliation, Harassment and Wrongful Termination

If you believe that you are or were being harassed or discriminated against on the job, or if you were fired because you are lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender or queer, our employment attorneys will defend your rights so you get the outcome you deserve. To learn about the range of legal options available to you, click this link and get the conversations started Contact Kilgore Law for a Free Discussion of the Facts of Your Case. We have decades of employment law experience that will help you understand your employment rights.

Three Discrimination and Wrongful Termination Cases Heard Together by the Supreme Court

This Supreme Court decision refers to three cases that were considered together. The first case is known as Bostock v. Clayton County. Gerald Bostock ran a program that recruited volunteers to advocate for abused and neglected children. He joined a gay recreational softball league, and then recruited for the league from among his co-workers. Someone complained and Bostock was fired. In his lawsuit, he asserted that he was fired for being gay. His lawsuit was dismissed because lower courts ruled, and the 11th Circuit Appeals Court affirmed, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not cover sexual orientation.

In Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., the second case considered, Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, told a female client that he was gay in order to make her more comfortable while they were strapped together in preparation for a tandem skydive. After the jump, this female client told her boyfriend about the instructor’s statement, and the boyfriend told Zarda’s boss. He was fired for being gay. Mr. Zarda filed a Title VII lawsuit and the full Appeals Court for the 2nd Circuit ultimately ruled for him.

In the third case, known as R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, Aimee Stephens, who had presented as a man prior to 2013, was a funeral director at the Harris Funeral Homes. She suffered from gender dysphoria and, on the advice of her doctors, chose to live entirely as a woman before making the decision to transition. She informed her employer that, on her return from vacation, she would present as a woman in appropriate women’s business attire. She was fired before she could return. Ultimately, the 6th Circuit Appeals Court held that Title VII protects transgender people.

The Supreme Court took the cases together to resolve a split among the Circuits. The Supreme Court’s goal was to make the interpretation of federal civil rights law uniform throughout the United States.

The Supreme Court Justices Wrote Opinions Regarding the Language of Title VII

The Supreme Court’s decision is rooted firmly in the language of Title VII, which states that:

“[it is] unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

The question is whether the term “sex” covers issues of sexual orientation or gender identity. It is clearly not what Congress meant in 1964, when the statute was drafted. The Court finds that no impediment, however. When an employer fires an employee for being homosexual or transgender, the Court reasons, it necessarily discriminates against that individual in part because of sex. Further, the plaintiff’s sex need not be the sole or primary cause of the employer’s adverse action. By way of example, the opinion offers this simple observation:

“Consider, for example, an employer with two employees, both of whom are attracted to men. The two individuals are, to the employer’s mind, materially identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other a woman. If the employer fires the male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague.“

Supreme Court Blows Apart Employer Arguments About Discrimination

This Supreme Court opinion also pre-emptively demolishes the arsenal of possible counterarguments on which employers frequently rely. First, it is irrelevant what an employer might call its practice of discrimination, how others might label it, or what else might motivate it. If the worker’s sex is a cause without which an action would have been taken, the practice violates Title VII.

Also, the plaintiff’s sex need not be the sole or primary cause of the employer’s adverse action. It is of no significance if another factor, such as the plaintiff’s attraction to the same sex or presentation as a different sex from the one assigned at birth, might also be at work, or even play a more important role in the employer’s decision.

Finally, an employer cannot escape liability by demonstrating that it treats males and females comparably as groups. An employer who intentionally fires a lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, or queer employee subjects all male and female lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, or queer employees to the same rule.

Future Supreme Court Decisions on Discrimination Against LGBTQ Employees

The Supreme Court’s recent decision does not affect the “ministerial exception” that it put into place in 2012. This leaves many LGBTQ employees of religious institutions unprotected from employer harassment, discrimination, and wrongful termination. But the high court will take up this matter soon under two cases that it accepted involving employment discrimination brought by two different teachers at different religious institutions. In both cases, the 9th Circuit Appeals Court ruled against the schools because the plaintiffs are not ministers but teachers. Stay tuned to learn the outcome of this hearing.

We Have Answers to Your Questions about Workplace Discrimination, Harassment and Wrongful Termination of LGBTQ Employees

If you believe that your employment rights were violated because you are lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgender, or queer, take heart, because a lot has just changed. To learn more about our employment discrimination practice click this link Our Dallas Discrimination Lawyers Hold Employers Liable for Employee Rights Violations. We recently discussed illegal harassment, discrimination, and LGBTQ people in Texas.

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