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LGBTQ Community Delivered Big Win

On Monday, June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender workers from discrimination in the workplace.  This ruling marks a huge win for the LGBTQ community in that it now makes clear the federal law, which bans gender bias in the workplace, covers sexual orientation and gender identity, too.

The ruling was made based on the findings of three associated cases, which were all heard before the U.S. Supreme Court: Altitude Express v. Zarda; Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al.  Each of these cases dealt with the related issue of whether gays and transgender individuals should be protected under Title VII, which afforded the U.S. Supreme Court the opportunity to hear and rule on these related matters together.

It has long been established that Title VII makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual because of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.  Title VII protects not only existing employees, but also individuals applying for new jobs as well.  However, until Monday, these protections did not cover gays and transgender people.  This all changed on Monday when the Court held, “The straightforward application of Title VII’s terms interpreted in accord … with their ordinary public meaning at the time of their enactment resolves these cases.”  By simply giving a broader definition to the word “sex” the U.S. Supreme Court has resolved a decade’s long battle that the LGBTQ community has been waging.

The 6-3 decision gave much needed clarity on this issue.  After the initial passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, circuit courts’ consistently ruled that Title VII’s reference to “sex” did not cover ones sexual orientation and gender identity, but rather it merely referred to being male or female in the traditional, historical sense.  In recent years circuit courts and regulators have become divided as a growing number started to expand the group protected under Title VII.

Currently, just twenty-one states have gender identity laws protecting workers from discrimination, while twenty-two states have laws designed to protect workers based on their sexual orientation.  New York, Connecticut and New Jersey offer anti-discrimination protections based on both sexual orientation and gender identity.  It is estimated the LGBTQ community is made of up of approximately 7.1 million lesbian, gay and bisexual workers and an additional 1 million workers who identify as transgender, according to the Williams Institute. 

This decision will level the playing field for the LGBTQ community; no matter where you live and no matter what your state law provides, LGBTQ workers are protected at work.   Beyond changing the landscape at work, legal scholars believe this new ruling will serve as roadmap for LGBTQ members to fight for and win expanded rights under other federal laws, including Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 and the Fair Housing Act, to name just a few.

The subject matter discussed in this post can be very technical.  It is an evolving area of law and very fact specific.  Our goal here is to simply alert you to some of the key issues involved.  We urge you to seek competent legal counsel before applying these ideas to your specific situation.  Brody and Associates stands ready to discuss your particular needs.