In Landmark Decision, Supreme Court Rules That Existing Civil Rights Law Protect LGBTQ Employees

In a major win for members of the LGBTQ community, the United States Supreme Court today ruled that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.

In a landmark 6-3 ruling from an increasingly conservative bench, the court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employees from discriminating on the basis of a person’s sex, also protects gay and transgender individuals. The decision upheld rulings from lower courts, which had determined that discrimination of LGBTQ persons was a form of sex discrimination.

“An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the decision. “That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

Gorsuch, a conservative, was joined in the decision by Chief Justice John Roberts as well as the four liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas dissented.

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The court’s decision came in response to cases brought by three workers, Gerald Bostock, Donald Zarda and Aimee Stephens.

Bostock was terminated in 2013 from his position as a child welfare services coordinater after joining a recreational gay softball league; Zarda was let go from his job as a skydiving instructor in 2010 after telling a client his sexual orientation and Stephens was in 2013 fired from her post as a funeral director in Michigan after revealing she was a transgender women. Bostock is the only one who lived to see the decision, as Zarda died in a sky-diving accident before the case was argued and Stephens died last month of kidney failure.

Twenty-one U.S. states protect workers from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, while another seven states give similar protections only to public employees. But prior to today’s ruling, there had been no federal law protecting LGBTQ employees in the other states. LGBTQ activists have long considered job discrimination to be one of special importance, as the majority of LGBTQ adult are members of the workforce.

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