USA, Washington D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on Monday, June 15, holding that an employer cannot discriminate against an employee based on sexual identity or sexual orientation. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination based on sex. However, this was the first case heard by the country’s highest court about whether “sex discrimination” includes discrimination based on being transgender or gay.
The case involved three individuals from different areas of the U.S., all with one thing in common—each alleged he or she was fired from employment based on being gay or transgender. Gerald Bostock sued his Clayton County, Georgia employer for discriminatory practices, alleging he was fired for being gay after joining a gay recreational softball league. Similarly, Donald Zarda alleged he was fired for being gay. Zarda’s employer terminated him days after he mentioned his sexual orientation. The third plaintiff, Aimee Stephens, was hired while a male and alleged discrimination based on being transgender. Stephens was fired after she informed her employer that she planned to live and work as a woman.
The decision was 6-3, with Justice Neil Gorsuch writing the opinion. He was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Elena Kagan. The majority reasoned, “An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex . . . it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.” The majority continued,
“When an employer fires an employee because she is homosexual or transgender, two causal factors may be in play—both the individual’s sex and something else (the sex to which the individual is attracted or with which the individual identifies). But Title VII doesn’t care. If an employer would not have discharged an employee but for that individual’s sex, the statute’s causation standard is met, and liability may match.”
The decision came only days after the Trump administration finalized a rule that would remove nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ individuals in health care and health insurance. The new rule defines “sex discrimination” in Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act as applying only when an individual faces discrimination for being male or female. It does not protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Trump’s rule reverses a 2016 Obama-era rule, which explained that the Affordable Care Act’s prohibition on sexual discrimination does prohibit discrimination in health care based on gender identity. Trump’s new rule is set to go into effect in August 2020.