The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that existing federal civil rights protections forbids job discrimination against LGBTQ+ workers. The decision said that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on a person’s sex, also covers sexual orientation.
Twenty-two states plus the District of Columbia currently have laws prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Monday ruling will extend similar protections to millions of workers nationwide.
The decision is a major, long-awaited victory for LGBTQ+ rights activists, many of whom consider discrimination protections more important than the right to marry given the high rates of unemployment and economic insecurity in the LGBTQ+ community.
“Today, the law, justice, and fairness are on our side,” said Kevin Jennings, CEO of Lambda Legal, in their statement. “We have a long way to go in securing the full and undeniable civil rights of LGBTQ+ people, especially those in our community who are Black, Indigenous and people of color for whom their sexual orientation or gender identity is only one of many barriers to equal opportunity in this country. But today’s victory is a necessary step forward on the journey toward equal justice for all.”
The decision came only days after the Trump administration announced the roll-back of Obama-era healthcare protections for women and transgender people. The Department of Health and Human Services revised a rule that prevented healthcare workers and insurance companies that receive federal funds from denying services like abortion or gender-affirming care.
This decision came in the middle of Pride Month and on the fourth anniversary of the Pulse massacre, when 49 people were murdered inside a beloved gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
The ruling was a surprise coming from the increasingly conservative court, but Republican-appointed Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal Democratic appointees to form a 6-3 majority. Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas dissented.
The Supreme Court ignored suggestions made by the Trump administration with this decision. The Justice Department had previously urged the court to rule that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation because the common understanding of sex discrimination in 1964 did not encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
The decision conceded that the authors of Title VII likely did not consider sexual orientation or gender identity when they wrote the law. Still, they said that an employer who fires a female employee for dating women, but not a male employee for dating women, violates the nondiscrimination clause based on sex.
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender first that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” wrote Justice Gorsuch in the majority opinion. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Sources: NBC News 6/15/2020; CNN 6/15/2020; Politico 6/15/2020; The New York Times 6/15/2020