Labor & Employment E-lert: Supreme Court Ruling: Federal Anti-Discrimination Laws Protect Gay and Transgender Employees

By: Sarah P. Reiner, Labor & Employment Shareholder

On Monday, June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that federal anti-discrimination laws protect gay and transgender employees. A copy of the Opinion is available in full here. The ruling was 6 to 3, and the opinion was authored by Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who opened it by stating:

“Sometimes small gestures can have unexpected consequences. Major initiatives practically guarantee them. In our time, few pieces of federal 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 undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

The ruling makes it clear that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination “because of sex,” includes LGBTQ employees.  Thus, these employees are entitled to the same protection from “sex” discrimination under Title VII, as other employees who seek protection from discrimination based on, for example, race, color, religion, or national origin.

In light of the Eleventh Circuit’s prior position on this issue (that Title VII did not protect employees from sexual orientation discrimination) and the Supreme Court’s Opinion rejecting that position, employers should evaluate their Equal Opportunity Policies and determine if any policy language needs to be revised.  We also recommend that employers provide updated training to employees, especially managerial employees, to ensure that they are aware that discrimination based on sex, including being homosexual or transgender, is strictly prohibited.  

For further information regarding this change in the law and its impact, please reach out to your labor and employment law counsel.

GrayRobinson leverages its capabilities through membership in specially-selected law firm affiliations. One of these is the Employment Law Alliance (ELA), a select group of highly respected, broad-based law firms that are capable of servicing virtually every legal need for their corporate clients. ELA has a presence in all 50 U.S. states, the District of Columbia and more than 300 cities around the globe. ELA is ranked as one of only three law firm networks in Chambers USA in the "Employment: The Elite in Global-Wide" category.