WASHINGTON — In a landmark victory for LGBTQ rights, the U.S. Supreme Court held Monday that employers can’t legally fire people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
In a 6-3 opinion, the court ruled that employers who fire individuals “merely for being gay or transgender” violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex and other characteristics — but not specifically gender identity or sexual orientation.
Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first appointee to the high court, and Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the court’s four liberal justices in the case. Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh filed dissenting opinions.
“An 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,” wrote Gorsuch, who authored the majority opinion. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
The ruling will have a profound effect on millions of LGBTQ people and their families. Nearly 5 percent of U.S. adults — more than 11 million people — identify as LGBTQ, according to Reuters, and large percentages report workplace discrimination. More than 40 percent of lesbian, bisexual and gay people — and 90 percent of transgender people — have faced employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation, according to court documents.
Chris Sanders, executive director of the Tennessee Equality Project, weighed in.
“Today’s ruling is particularly significant for Tennessee where we neither had job protections nor had much prospect of passing them in the Legislature,” Sanders said. “Over the years, we have received several anguished calls from people who faced job discrimination and there wasn’t much we could do for them. Now we have a remedy and a ruling that I think will reshape discrimination law in this country for years to come.”
“After marriage equality five years ago next week, many LGBT and ally people thought the movement for equality was over,” said Joe Wooley, CEO of the Nashville LGBT Chamber. “They did not realize that you could get married on Saturday and then fired on Monday in over half the states.”
President Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, hailed the “historic” decision Monday. “No one should be denied a job or fired simply because of who they are or whom they love,” he said in a statement.
But he said more work remains. The high court legalized gay marriage in 2015, but about half of states lack statutes protecting LGBTQ people from workplace discrimination.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) agreed.
She pointed to legislation passed last year by the U.S. House that would amend existing civil rights law to explicitly cover sexual orientation and gender identity and make other changes. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “must end his partisan obstruction and allow the Senate to vote on this critical legislation,” she said in a statement.
Justices heard cases last fall involving plaintiffs who argued that they were wrongfully fired because of their gender orientation and sexual identity.
(LGBT people) didn't realize they could get married on Saturday and fired on Monday.
– Joe Wooley, CEO, Nashville LGBTQ Chamber of Commerce
Aimee Stephens — a transgender woman from Michigan — was fired after she informed her boss she planned to transition from male to female.
Gerald Bostock of Georgia and Donald Zarda of New York were fired after their employers learned of the sexual orientation. Bostock, a social worker, lost his job with Clayton County after joining a gay softball league. Zarda, a skydiving instructor, was fired after informing a customer of his sexual orientation.