In a landmark decision, the US Supreme Court recently extended Title VII protections for workers under the Civil Rights Act to LGBTQ+ employees. Activists in the LGBTQ+ community have pursued the decision, which affects employees in both private and public workplaces, for decades. Today, we're covering the case in detail (and what it means for employees).
At John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorney at Law, we work with federal employees to resolve employment disputes.
To schedule a consultation with your team and discuss your case with an experienced federal employment attorney, contact us online or via phone at (202) 759-7780.
What Is Title VII?
According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act "prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin."
The Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, is a key piece of legislation that aims to prevent discrimination both in and out of the workplace. The act was originally passed as part of the Civil Rights movement spearheaded by activists such as Martin Luther King Jr.
Since the act passed, Title VII protections have been extended to various demographics. For example, another ruling on Title VII extended protections to pregnant women, making it illegal for employers to refuse employment to or fire a pregnant woman due to her pregnancy.
Title VII and LGBTQ+ Employees
For decades, activists have argued that Title VII protections should also extend to LGBTQ+ employees. On June 15, 2020, the US Supreme Court agreed, ruling in a 6-3 decision that "an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law." Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts ruled with the Court's four liberal justices on the case.
Writing the Court's majority opinion, Gorsuch stated that "it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex," and therefore violating the terms of the Civil Rights Act.
Dissenting justices argued that "sex" as defined in Title VII should apply to the gender disparity between male and female genders, and as such, would not be applicable to LGBTQ+ individuals. Gorsuch pushed back, stating that if an employer fires a male employee for being attracted to a man but would not fire a female employee for the same preference, the employer's action discriminates against the gay employee based on their sex.
Gorsuch also pointed out that previous rulings on the Act have viewed the term "sex" from various angles, using the protections afforded to women who have children under the Act as an example. While Gorsuch also acknowledged that some employers may have religious objections to LGBTQ+ employees, the Court refuted the opinion that those objections should change its ruling.
While the ruling does represent another triumph by the LGBTQ+ community in the Court after the legalization of gay marriage, it's important to note that it does come with caveats. For example, Gorsuch indicated that employers might be able to push back against hiring LGBTQ+ individuals for religious under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
For private and federal LGBTQ+ employees, the ruling is still a victory. It opens up more options for LGBTQ+ employees who are discriminated against in the workplace—for example, an employer who refuses to use their employees' preferred pronouns could now convincingly be sued for discrimination.
At John P. Mahoney, Esq., Attorney at Law, we can help you resolve your employment discrimination case. We'll work with you to protect your rights and pursue an optimal outcome in your case.
To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (202) 759-7780.