The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to rule on whether federal civil rights law protecting against discrimination in the workplace based on sex covers the LGBTQ community.
Lower courts have been split on whether the prohibition against sex-based discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which also protects on the basis of race, religion, and national origin—includes sexual orientation and transgender or gender non-conforming status. Recent appellate court rulings in favor of LGBTQ protections have set up a ruling by the high court.
The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to hear two cases of discrimination based on sexual orientation that reached opposite conclusions: Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, in New York, in which the court found in favor of a man who was fired for being gay, saying it constituted sex discrimination, and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which found in favor of a gay child welfare services coordinator’s employer.
Additionally, the Supreme Court will determine if transgender people are protected from workplace discrimination under federal law, taking up an appeal to the case R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which a trans woman said she was fired from a Michigan funeral home when she came out and announced she’d begin dressing in women’s clothing at work. She won her case, with the Sixth Circuit appeals court ruling in her favor.
The court also ruled her rights were violated under the Supreme Court’s decision, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, that discriminating against workers who do not conform to gender stereotypes was itself a form of sex discrimination.
Lambda Legal, which successfully argued Zarda v. Altitude Express, tweeted that it was important for LGBTQ people to have workplace protections, and “for courts to understand that we ARE protected by the #CivilRightsAct.”
#LGBTQ people need & deserve to feel safe & respected at work. It is important for courts to understand that we ARE protected by the #CivilRightsAct. We have won multiple lower court victories establishing this & are ready to bring the fight all the way to #SCOTUS. #OutAtWork
— Lambda Legal (@LambdaLegal) April 22, 2019
“Americans decided long ago that no person should have to fear losing their job because of who they are, and we hope the Supreme Court understands its responsibility to uphold established law and this enduring American value,” said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, in a statement.
While the Obama administration and the Equal Opportunity Commission determined federal law covers LGBTQ workers, the Trump administration has made clear it disagrees.