BREAKING: The US Supreme Court has ruled LGBT+ workers have protection under federal law.
The justices decisions came in three cases and will impact millions of LGBT+ workers.
Two of the cases related to whether employers can discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The third case was about whether bosses can discriminate against a worker because of their gender identity.
But the court said the language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, also applies to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The justices voted six to three in favor of LGBT+ workers. Justice M Gorush wrote the majority opinion. And Chief Justice John G Roberts Jr as well as Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan agreed with him.
Victory in all three cases marks a watershed moment for LGBT+ workers rights in the US.
The three historic cases
The decision relates to three cases the US Supreme Court heard in October last year.
All three were about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The justices had to decide whether it prevented discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity in the workplace.
Bostock v Clayton County was about Gerald Bostock, a welfare services coordinator for Clayton County, Georgia. He suddenly lost his job after decades of experience and numerous accolades.
The problem? Bostock joined an extra-curricular gay softball league. Bostock’s work colleagues made disparaging remarks about his sexual orientation in front of his supervisor, which led to an internal audit of his work and ultimate termination.
Meanwhile Altitude Express v Zarda was about Don Zarda. He worked for a skydiving business on Long Island, New York.
But bosses fired Zarda immediately after he revealed he was LGBTQ.
Zarda sued the business because of clear anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Zarda has passed away, but the case his sister, Melissa Zarda, and former partner, Bill Moore fought on.
While both of those are about sexual orientation discrimination, the final case was RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes v EEOC relates to gender identity.
Aimee Stephens worked at a funeral home in Detroit, Michigan. Her bosses terminated her after she came out as transgender to her supervisor. Aimee took her case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) where the agency sued the company on behalf of her.
Lawyers for the employers and for Donald Trump’s administration argued that sex discrimination only applied to men and women. They said that was the meaning of the term in 1964, when the law came into force.
Therefore, it did not cover LGBT+ people, they said. Moreover, if Congress wanted to protect LGBT+ workers, it should pass a new law, they argued.
However the lawyers for the workers said that it was only logical that people were biased against LGBT+ people in part because of their gender.
Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch argued that discrimination on the basis of being LGBT+ is fundamentally no different from other sex discrimination.
Indeed, he said: ‘An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions.
‘That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.
‘We agree that homosexuality and transgender status are distinct concepts from sex. But as we’ve seen, discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second.’
This will give LGBT+ workers discrimination protection from the employees in all US states. But it is particularly important in the 26 states that don’t already have their own non-discrimination protections.
Moreover, the ruling is vitally important because discrimination against LGBT+ employees is so widespread.
The Williams Institute found 60% of LGB people say an employer fired them or denied them a job. That compares to 40% of heterosexuals.
Meanwhile, 48% of gay, lesbian and bi workers have had a negative evaluation or not secured a promotion they expected. But just 32% of heterosexuals have had a similar experience.
And the new federal protections may be widely used.
One study found that people have filed 9,127 charges with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination between 2012 and 2016.
Moreover, states which don’t have anti-discrimination laws saw more serious cases of LGBT+ discrimination.
However the rulings don’t give all the protections that the stalled Equality Act would offer.
For example, federal law still allows stores and restaurants to discriminate against LGBT+ people. However, state laws may ban such discrimination in some states.
It is still legal to harass transgender people in restrooms and gyms. Moreover, it is still legal for federally funded programs to discriminate against LGBT+ people. These include programs funding hospitals, colleges and adoption agencies.
America actually supports protections
Meanwhile the American public overwhelmingly supports LGBT+ employment protections.
Indeed, in May 2019, a Quinnipiac University Poll found that 92% of American voters believe employers should not fire someone for being LGBTQ.
Interestingly, Americans also believe that LGBT+ people have more protection than they did – until today.
In June 2019, Reuters/Ipsos carried out a poll about this. The researchers found that less than a quarter of Americans realize there are not federal employment protections for LGBT+ people already.
Moreover, businesses also want these protections to exist.
Over 200 major businesses, including American Airlines, Bank of America and Marriot filed an amicus brief to the court. It supported protecting LGBTQ Americans from discrimination at the workplace.