Supreme Court Ruling Bans Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

On Monday, June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision. The 6-3 majority ruling builds on the protections offered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The case was Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and included three employees who allegedly were fired from their jobs because they were gay or transgender. The question before the court was whether Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination based on sex also covered discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Justice Neal Gorsuch noted in the decision: “In our time, few pieces of legislation rank in significance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There, in Title VII, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 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 distinguishable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids”.

The result of the Supreme Court’s decision is that employers nationwide are prohibited from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in any aspect of employment, including, hiring, training, promotion, compensation, discipline, and termination. Also, because harassment is a form of discrimination under federal law, the ruling also prohibits harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Employers must ensure that when they are making decisions that would be considered an adverse action against an employee, their decision is not based on the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, since the ruling is so new and the regulations are unclear, employers should err on the side of caution when employees make requests such as using their preferred names or pronouns in conversations, written correspondence, and on internal programs. Employers should also take prompt action if they receive a complaint of harassment due to sexual orientation or gender identity. Diversity and inclusion, discrimination, and harassment training for all staff could prove beneficial in most work environments.

If you have questions on this landmark ruling or any specific situations that may arise, contact UAP to see how we can help!