• Pamela Tahim Thakur

U.S. Supreme Court Holds that Title VII Protects LGTBQ+ Employees from Workplace Discrimination


On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic decision which granted protection under federal law to LGTBQ+ employees from workplace discrimination in three consolidated cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618; Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. EEOC, No. 18-107.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority in a five to three decision, finding Title VII’s anti-discrimination protections extend to sexual orientation and gender identity. He was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.

While the scope of the Court’s decision will be debated, its implications for workplaces across the country are massively significant. The Court ruled that Title VII’s ban on “sex”-based discrimination prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as discrimination against transgender claimants based on their transgender status. Justice Gorsuch wrote, “When an employer fires an employee for being homosexual or transgender, it necessarily intentionally discriminates against that individual in part because of sex [in violation of Title VII].” Further, the decision stated that “the plaintiff’s sex need not be the sole or primary cause of the employer’s adverse action” for Title VII to apply.

Justice Gorsuch further stated, “The statute’s message for our cases is equally simple and momentous: An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

By finding that Title VII bars workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, the Court’s decision effectively extends that prohibition to state and local jurisdictions, including California.

Implications for Employers

The Court’s decision makes it more likely that adverse employment actions (such as terminations) alleged to be discriminatory against LGBTQ+ workers would be found unlawful in lawsuits against employers. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) was already receiving an increasing number of claims of sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. But with the Court’s decision, the agency and plaintiffs will most likely be emboldened to bring many more such lawsuits against employers in federal court.

Employers should ensure that their anti-discrimination and anti-harassment employment policies clearly prohibit gender identity and sexual orientation-based discrimination and harassment and should continue to promptly and thoroughly investigate all complaints of LGBTQ+ discrimination followed by remedial action when necessary. Staff should also be trained on the prevention of LGBTQ+ discrimination and managers trained on how to respond to LGBTQ+ discrimination complaints, including the duty to report LGBTQ+ discrimination when placed on actual or constructive notice of any instance of such discrimination and harassment.

Please do not hesitate to contact one of the experienced employment attorneys at Thakur Law Firm, APC with any questions about the Court’s decision, anti-harassment employment policies, or workplace training and compliance for management and employees.

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