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Are LGBT employees protected from discrimination? Supreme Court to decide

US Supreme Court LGBT Employees

The nine justices of the United States Supreme Court were photographed Nov. 30, 2018. Seated from left to right: Stephen G. Breyer, Clarence Thomas, John G. Roberts, Jr., Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Samuel A. Alito. Standing from left to right: Neil M. Gorsuch, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Brett M. Kavanaugh. Photo: Collection of the United States Supreme Court.

The U.S. Supreme Court agreed today to hear three cases addressing whether Title VII, a federal civil rights law,  protects LGBT employees from discrimination.

Title VII

Title VII, part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,  bans workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, gender, or national origin, but does not explicitly cover sexual orientation or gender identification. The court’s decision to hear the case comes amid a national movement pushing for a ban on such discrimination.

The Supreme Court, begins its next term in October, and rulings are expected in Summer 2020.

LGBT employment protections

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency, ruled in 2015 Title VII protects against LGBT discrimination in the workplace, and federal courts have agreed.

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“Millions of LGBT people rely on those federal protections, and countless businesses across the country have changed their policies to protect LGBT workers,”said Shannon Minter, legal director with the National Center for Lesbian Rights. “A Supreme Court decision reversing these established protections would be catastrophic for LGBT people and disruptive for businesses, who would face a patchwork of conflicting state laws.”

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Supreme Court cases

Here are the three cases the Supreme Court will hear.

  • In Bostock v. Clayton County, a county child welfare services coordinator was fired when his employer learned he is gay. In 2018, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider a 1979 decision wrongly excluding sexual orientation discrimination from coverage under Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination, and denied his appeal.
  • In Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, a skydiving instructor was fired from his job after he said he is gay. A federal trial court rejected his discrimination claim, saying that the Civil Rights Act does not protect a gay man from losing his job. In February 2018, the full 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination prohibited under Title VII.
  • In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC & Aimee Stephens, a funeral home owner fired a funeral director after the director informed the owner that she is transgender and planned to come to work as woman.  The owner said it would be “unacceptable” for her to appear and behave as a woman. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March 2018 that firing her for being transgender and departing from sex stereotypes violated Title VII.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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