Supreme Court Bars Discrimination Against LGBT Workers in Landmark Decision
On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued an opinion on three separate cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17–1618; Altitude Express, Inc., et al. v. Zarda et al., as Co-Independent Executors of the Estate of Zarda, No. 17–1623; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al., No. 18–107. The Court held that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). The 6–3 ruling came as a surprise to many, particularly given that conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch—appointed by President Trump in 2017—authored the opinion (a copy of which can be found here: Supreme Court of the United States Slip Opinion, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia).
For several years now, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has interpreted and enforced Title VII as forbidding employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity under the broader prohibition on sex-based discrimination. However, the Supreme Court’s June 15 decision was the first time the highest court in the country weighed in on this interpretation.
The court adopted the view promulgated by the EEOC—namely, that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are forms of sex-based discrimination because such discrimination requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently “because of” their sex. In other words, an employer who intentionally treats a person worse because of sex—such as by firing the person for actions or attributes it would tolerate in an individual of another sex (like acting feminine or masculine)—discriminates against that person in violation of Title VII. Employers should be prepared for greater scrutiny when terminating LGBT employees and should take care to analyze current employee policies to ensure that LGBT employees are afforded the same protections as other protected classes. It may also be a good time to schedule discrimination and harassment awareness training to ensure that employees, and managers in particular, are aware of the prohibition against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Stibbs & Co. attorneys have extensive experience drafting employee handbooks and conducting employee and manager trainings and are here to help.
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Employers are also encouraged to seek legal counsel prior to taking actions to avoid violations of federal or state employment laws including, but not limited to, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.