In a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court of the United States arrived at a 6-3 decision on June 15 that employers cannot discriminate against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Previously, states and local municipalities were left to decide for themselves if an employer could choose to fire or otherwise discriminate against an LGBTQ employee for their sexual orientation or gender identity. Now, the ruling effectively marks these qualities as federally protected classes the likes of race, sex, religion, national origin, etc.
The majority sided with an interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which establishes federally protected classes. Specifically, the majority of the justices agreed that when Title VII was penned to protect biological sex (specifically, female employees), there were broad assumptions about sexual attraction and gender identity that came along with it. In today’s society where sexual attraction and gender identity are not considered to be necessarily tied to one’s biological sex at birth, the court agreed that Title VII’s protection of “sex” should extend to LGBTQ employees.
This didn’t fly with the dissenting justices, who argued that Title VII was limited to biological sex and was never intended to be extended to protect LGBTQ employees from discrimination. They also had concerns about potential unintended consequences for religious liberties. Nonetheless, the decision swayed in favor of LGBTQ rights activists, who have long sought protection from discrimination at work.
The June 15 ruling wasn’t just historic for its implications, either. While LGBTQ rights advocates have had SCOTUS victories before – the 2015 ruling that permitted same-sex marriage nationwide, for example – all of them were rooted in Constitutional questions. What made this decision historic is that justices decided to afford LGBTQ Americans protection against discrimination based on a prior statute, not the founding charter of the United States.
Three cases involving terminated employees that worked their way up to the highest court eventually compelled SCOTUS to address the question of protecting sexual orientation and gender identity at work. Two of the cases each centered on a gay man who was fired from his job on the basis of his sexual orientation. In the third case, a transgender woman was fired after she informed her employer that she would begin dressing in women’s clothing at work to conform with her gender identity.
Although these cases seemed to be based on the question of whether or not an employee cannot be discriminated against when it comes to termination, it doesn’t seem likely that the decision will be so strictly interpreted by lower courts. In other words, it appears as if LGBTQ employees have indeed been afforded protection against all forms of workplace discrimination nationwide.
Do You Need Legal Assistance?
Although sexual orientation and gender identity are newly protected classes nationwide, California has protected LGBTQ employees for a longer period of time. If you have experienced any form of discrimination at work because of your real or presumed sexual orientation or gender identity, we can help you hold your employer accountable.
Polaris Law Group has more than 25 years of experience helping employees seek fair and just compensation when their rights at work have been violated. If someone at work has violated your rights, you may be entitled to a recovery of damages. We can help you get what you deserve by pursuing legal action against your employer.