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Victory for Trans and Gay Employees at the Supreme Court

In a great victory for employee rights, the Supreme Court today ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  In this landmark decision, conservative justices Gorsuch and Roberts sided with four other members of the Court to rule the protection against sex discrimination necessarily protects gay and trans workers because “[a]n employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.”  The decision amounts to a massive gain for the civil rights of LGBTQ+ employees, and has momentous implications for the rights of individuals in other settings.

The Court heard oral arguments in the three cases that formed the basis for today’s decision in October of 2019. The first set of arguments combined Bostock v. Clayton County, where a child services coordinator was fired for being gay, with Altitude Express v. Zarda, where a skydiving instructor was fired for being gay. The second argument concerned R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, where a transgender woman was fired from her job as a funeral director upon informing her boss of her intention to present as female in the workplace. Sadly, Aimee Stephens, the woman at the center of Harris Funeral Homes, passed away just within the last month.

Harris Funeral Homes marks the first time the Supreme Court has addressed transgender civil rights. Significantly, this victory comes on the heels of several anti-trans maneuvers by the Trump Administration last week, including a final HHS rule undoing anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people under the Affordable Care Act’s nondiscrimination provision, section 1557, and a proposed HUD rule stripping transgender people of protections in accessing single-sex shelter facilities. The HHS rule will likely be quickly defeated in the courts following this Supreme Court ruling because of its reliance on an improper interpretation of discrimination on the basis of “sex.”

The Court’s decision in Bostock, Harris Funeral Homes, and Zarda cases means Title VII now supplements a patchwork of LGBTQ+ employment anti-discrimination protections in state and local laws.  While employees in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and, most recently, Virginia, are protected from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation, no such protection exists in many jurisdictions across the country.  The decision is most critically important for federal employees; while the EEOC has long held that Title VII protects trans and gay federal employees from discrimination, an adverse decision would have stripped those protections in the federal workforce regardless of where they live, since the federal government is not subject to local and state anti-discrimination laws. 

Correia & Puth maintains a vibrant practice representing lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, and transgender workers who have faced discrimination in the workplace. We also represent transgender individuals encountering discrimination in health care and other settings. Individuals seeking representation in discrimination matters, whether because of LBGTQ status or because of race, gender, or other protected status, may contact us online or at 202-602-6500.

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