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Landmark Supreme Court Ruling

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Landmark Supreme Court Ruling Defends LGBTQ Rights

June 15, 2020.  In the biggest triumph for gay rights since 2015, the Supreme Court ruled to protect gay, lesbian and transgender workers in Bostock v. Clayton County, GA, a landmark Supreme Court ruling.

This decision has significant impact for equality on the job and is the biggest victory for gay rights since the Supreme Court 2015 decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which required states to recognize same sex marriages.  The majority in Bostock ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination “because of” sex, extends to people who face job bias arising from their gender identity or sexual orientation.  The Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate against any person on the basis of sex.

In this landmark Supreme Court ruling, the justices struggled over the fundamental question – What exactly does the term “sex” include?  The Court considered two instances where men were fired for being gay and one case where a transgender woman was fired for disclosing her identity to her boss.  The Court decided that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity includes discriminating based on sex, making it clearly illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The plaintiff presented the following example:  Think about an employer who has two employees, one male and the other female.  Both employees date men, but the male employee is fired for doing so, while the same action is tolerated in the female employee.  The only material difference between the two employees was their sex.  The Court noted that it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being gay or transgender without discriminating against the individual based on sex.

Prior to this decision, more than 25 states had not established such broad workplace protections for LGBTQ individuals.  As a result of this landmark Supreme Court ruling, employers are federally prohibited from discriminating against individuals for being gay or transgender.  With this ruling in mind, employers must consider their policies and procedures to protect LGBTQ workers and to ensure that they are treated fairly.

Posted by Shira Itskowitz, 2020 Summer Intern (Barnard College, Columbia University), June 19, 2020.




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