Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Supreme Court Rules that Homosexual and Transgender Employees are Protected from Discrimination Under Title VII

On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision in three companion cases (Bostock v. Clayton County; Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda; R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC) holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects homosexual and transgender employees from discrimination/harassment in the workplace.

In all three (3) cases, the employer terminated the employee's employment after it was revealed that the employee was homosexual or transgender. Each employee brought suit under Title VII claiming that they were fired because of their "sex" (Title VII prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin). The Supreme Court held that "sex", pursuant to Title VII, includes sexual orientation and transgender as protected classes because, as the Court reasoned, "it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex."

The Court provided the following example to illustrate its position: An employer has two employees, a female and a male, both of whom are attracted to men. If the employer fires the  male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him because the employer is tolerating the same trait or behavior from the female employee. The employer, the Supreme Court held, has thus terminated the employee "because of sex" in violation of Title VII.

This decision is particularly noteworthy because Justice Gorsuch and Chief Justice Roberts, typically known as  "conservative" justices, were in the majority (Justice Gorsuch authored the Decision). This signifies the courts continued emphasis on interpreting laws to protect employees from discrimination in the workplace. Employers should, thus, take even more proactive steps (including but not limited to policies and training) to mitigate the risks of discrimination lawsuits.

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