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SCOTUS Extends Title VII Protections to LGBT Employees

Katherine A. Janocsko, Esq., kjanocsko@tuckerlaw.com, 412 594-5565

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, SCOTUS Docket No. 17–1618, No. 17–1623, No. 18–107 (June 15, 2020).  The Supreme Court of the United States held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

In a landmark decision released on June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States held that a federal civil rights law protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from workplace discrimination.

The decision relied on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  In short, the Court held that sexual orientation and gender identity are related to “sex,” such that a prohibition of sex discrimination also includes a prohibition on sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

The issue arose before the Supreme Court when it granted certiorari and consolidated argument in a trio of cases rising out of the federal Circuit Courts of Appeal.  All three cases involved questions of whether sexual orientation discrimination by employers violated Title VII.  The namesake case, Bostock, involved a man who was fired from a government position in Georgia after joining a gay softball league.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the 6-3 majority of justices, wrote: “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.  Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

“For an employer to discriminate against employees for being homosexual or transgender, the employer must intentionally discriminate against individual men and women in part because of sex.  That has always been prohibited by Title VII’s plain terms.”

Members of the Court who dissented from the opinion argued that the majority had abandoned its judicial role and was legislatively extending Title VII into an area that was not contemplated when the law was enacted in the 1960’s.

PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The decision is being hailed as a symbolic victory for the LGBT community and will have an impact on millions of people in the American workforce, including those who are employed at public schools.  Teachers, staff, and other public school employees who are members of the LGBT community can be “out” in the classroom and on campus and rest assured that they will not suffer from employment discrimination as a result.  Proponents of the decision are celebrating that allowing teachers and staff to safely be “out at work” could have a positive impact on LGBT students.

Schools should be sure that their anti-discrimination policies, trainings, and employee handbooks prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sex, and should specify that “sex” includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

The dissenting Justices warned that the majority’s ruling could have adverse impacts on issues surrounding the use of bathrooms and locker rooms by transgender students.  Justice Gorsuch responded by writing that the majority opinion was narrow: “[W]e do not purport to address bathrooms, locker rooms, or anything else of the kind. The only question before us is whether an employer who fires someone simply for being homosexual or transgender has discharged or otherwise discriminated against that individual “because of such individual’s sex.”  It remains to be seen how this landmark decision for equality will extend into these controversial areas impacting schools.

June 25, 2020

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