This week, the U.S. Supreme Court finally ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects gay and transgender employees. In other words, a U.S. employer may not discriminate or retaliate against its employee because the employee identifies as LGBTQ. The majority opinion, surprisingly penned by the conservative Justice Gorsuch, cited the plain text of Title VII, which bars discrimination based on sex. Judge Gorsuch recognized that “sex” does not only apply to the traditional gender binary, but also extends to sexual preference and identity. Five other justices, including Justice Roberts (another conservative), joined the opinion, with Justices Alito, Kavanaugh, and Thomas dissenting.
While this type of discrimination against gay and transgender employees has long been prohibited under California law, many other states were mum on whether employers were permitted to discriminate against employees on the basis of identifying as LGBTQ. One such state was Michigan, where in 2013, Aimee Stephens was fired from her job at a funeral home after she informed her employer that she would undergo a gender reassignment surgery. Aimee, and two other plaintiffs, brought this lawsuit to vindicate their rights under Title VII, a Federal Statute. Unfortunately, Aimee died just a month before this historic decision. While Aimee isn’t reading the opinion with us this week, her courage and tenacity will protect millions of LGBTQ employees who fear coming out at work.
Although this ruling focused on protecting gay and transgender employees from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender discrimination, it’s likely that the decision sets a precedent to provide other protections for members of the LGBTQ community at work nationwide. Indeed, this decision is a giant leap towards equality for workers.
A link to the full opinion can be found here.
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