The Resource Blog: Legal/Legislative Updates (SD SHRM Members Only)

U.S. Supreme Court Rules that Title VII Protects LGBTQ Employees

Monday, June 15, 2020   (0 Comments)
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By Jennifer Suberlak, Esq., San Diego SHRM VP of Legislation

U.S. Supreme Court Rules that Title VII Protects LGBTQ Employees

In a landmark ruling handed down today, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status.  Enacted during the Civil Rights era, Title VII forbids employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, and sex.  For the last several years, LGBTQ advocates have argued that discrimination based upon sexual orientation and transgender status is simply another species of discrimination based upon sex—an employer who fires a man for loving another man takes that action based upon preconceived, discriminatory notions about how members of the sexes should behave.  In other words, the employer takes the adverse action because of the employee’s sex, which is exactly what Title VII forbids. 

While some federal appellate courts have agreed with this argument, others have rejected it on the grounds that Title VII does not expressly identify sexual orientation or transgender status in the text of the statute, and that members of Congress in 1964 did not intend the law to protect LGBTQ employees.  The Supreme Court today confirmed that federal law forbids this kind of discriminatory treatment.  Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority of the Court, wrote: “Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII.” 

Notably, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression has long been illegal under the California Fair Employment & Housing Act, as well as many other states’ anti-discrimination laws.  This new ruling brings federal employment law in parallel with California’s emphasis on equality for LGBTQ persons in the workplace. 

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