Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled, in a 6 to 3 decision, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against employees for being homosexual or transgender. The opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the Court’s four liberal justices, Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, and Stephen Breyer.
The Court’s ruling decided three different cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia; Altitude Express, Inc., et al. v. Zarda et al.; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission et al. All three cases were argued on October 8, 2019.
In the majority opinion, Justice Gorsuch framed the question before the Court as a straightforward one:
“Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Justice Gorsuch reasoned that “the ordinary public meaning” of Title VII’s language “at the time of the law’s adoption” provides a “straightforward rule”: “An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex.” Justice Gorsuch concluded that employers discriminating against employees for being homosexual or transgender is prohibited by “Title VII’s plain terms” as discrimination based on sex.
This decision, like the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing gay marriage, has a sweeping and profound impact on employers. Employers should review and revise their current policies and practices to protect homosexual and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace. Employers should also train supervisors on the impact of this decision. It should be noted that this decision does not change Title VII’s express statutory exemption for religious organizations.