On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear, in a 6-3 ruling, that federal law, through Title VII, protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

The Court held that “Title VII makes it ‘unlawful … for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual … because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” “The straightforward application of Title VII’s terms interpreted in accord … with their ordinary public meaning at the time of their enactment resolves these cases.”

For many years following Title VII’s passage in 1964, courts routinely held that sex-based bias did not cover gay workers, and most said it did not protect transgender workers. Since approximately 2010, however, the tide began to turn, and judges began interpreting Title VII to cover the LGBTQ community. Indeed, some of that momentum came from the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (located in downtown Chicago).  In 2017, that Court became the first federal appellate court in the country to extend the protections afforded by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

In deciding the case, the Supreme Court also sided with the causation standard plaintiffs’ discrimination and employment lawyers have long argued for – that consideration of a protected characteristic (race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, disability, among others) in any part of an employment decision is prohibited. The Court made clear that it “makes no difference if other factors besides the plaintiff’s sex contributed to the decision or that the employer treated women as a group the same when compared to men as a group.”

Continuing further, the Court explained that “a statutory violation occurs if an employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee. 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.” Emery Law’s Ethan White is an employment attorney who regularly files charges and lawsuits for employees who have faced discrimination at work. He has more than a decade of pure litigation experience, primarily focusing on employee-side employment disputes, including discrimination and retaliation.  If you are dealing with workplace discrimination, including on the basis of your sexual orientation, you need an employment lawyer who will fight for you. Call today for a free initial consultation.