In a high-profile and much anticipated ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the prohibition against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to discrimination based on a worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
In a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Gorsuch, the Court pointed to the “plain meaning” of the language of Title VII and held that “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.” Justices Kavanaugh, Alito, and Thomas dissented.
The Court reasoned that “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.”
The decision covered three related cases. It resolves a long brewing split among the federal circuits and affirms a Seventh Circuit ruling allowing a lesbian professor’s wrongful termination lawsuit to move forward. The Justice Department argued against the workers in these cases, in a shift from the previous administration’s position supporting the rights of LGBTQ workers.
The ruling is of particular importance in those states where state civil rights laws have been held not to apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.