Employers Prohibited From Making Employment Decisions Based on Homosexuality and Transgender Status
In a long-awaited landmark decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of an employee’s homosexuality or transgender status. The effect of the Court’s 6-3 ruling is that going forward, discriminating against or terminating an employee simply because the employee is homosexual or transgender will violate Title VII.
The Court’s opinion actually resolved three consolidated cases. The employers in those cases did not dispute for purposes of the appeal that they terminated the employees either because of their transgender status or homosexuality. They instead argued that they could not be held liable under Title VII because homosexuality and transgender status are not protected categories under Title VII.
But the Court disagreed, finding that discriminating against an employee because of homosexuality or transgender status constitutes discrimination “because of . . . sex,” which, of course, has been prohibited by Title VII since its enactment in 1964. The Court specifically concluded that “[a]n 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 Court’s warning to employers is simple: “[a]n employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”
This case will embolden discrimination/harassment cases by employees who might have previously believed that the sex discrimination portion of Title VII did not protect them, and likely will lead to more claims by employees that their transgender status or homosexuality is the real reason for their termination or discipline, regardless of the employer’s stated reason.
A full copy of the Court’s opinion may be found here.
If you would like to discuss the Court’s decision or how it may impact your business or organization, please contact Justin Furrow or your relationship attorney.