Human Rights Campaign: Supreme Court is On Right Side of History for LGBTQ Rights

by Elizabeth Bibi

The Supreme Court ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Today, the Human Rights Campaign responded to a landmark ruling by the Supreme Court affirming that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

“This is a landmark victory for LGBTQ equality,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “No one should be denied a job or fired simply because of who they are or whom they love. For the past two decades, federal courts have determined that discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ status is unlawful discrimination under federal law. Today’s historic ruling by the Supreme Court affirms that view, but there is still work left to be done. In many aspects of the public square, LGBTQ people still lack non-discrimination protections, which is why it is crucial that Congress pass the Equality Act to address the significant gaps in federal civil rights laws and improve protections for everyone.”

“There are truly no words to describe just how elated I am,” said Gerald Bostock, one of the petitioners who alleges he was fired from his job as a child welfare services coordinator after joining a gay recreational softball team. “When I was fired seven years ago, I was devastated. But this fight became about so much more than me. I am sincerely grateful to the Supreme Court, my attorneys, advocacy organizations like the Human Rights Campaign, and every person who supported me on this journey.” Bostock continued, “Today, we can go to work without the fear of being fired for who we are and who we love. Yet, there is more work to be done. Discrimination has no place in this world, and I will not rest until we have equal rights for all.”

The Supreme Court determined that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and transgender status are forms of sex discrimination in the cases pending before it:

In R.G. & G.R. HARRIS FUNERAL HOMES v. EEOC and AIMEE STEPHENS, Aimee Stephens worked as a funeral director at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes. When she informed the funeral home’s owner that she is transgender and planned to come to work as the woman she is, the business owner fired her, saying it would be “unacceptable” for her to appear and behave as a woman. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March 2018 that when the funeral home fired her for being transgender and departing from sex stereotypes, it violated Title VII, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in employment.

In ALTITUDE EXPRESS INC. v. ZARDA, Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, was fired from his job because of his sexual orientation. A federal trial court rejected his discrimination claim, saying that the Civil Rights Act does not protect him from losing his job because of his sexual orientation. In February 2018, the full Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of discrimination based on sex that is prohibited under Title VII. The court recognized that when a lesbian, gay or bisexual person is treated differently because of discomfort or disapproval that they are attracted to people of the same sex, that’s discrimination based on sex.

In BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY, Gerald Lynn Bostock was fired from his job as a county child welfare services coordinator when his employer learned he is gay. In May 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider a 1979 decision wrongly excluding sexual orientation discrimination from coverage under Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination and denied his appeal.

Protection from discrimination in the workplace is more important than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic, when unemployment rates are high and the prospects of finding a new job low.  Recent data from HRC shows that 17% of LGBTQ people and 22% of LGBTQ people of color reported becoming unemployed as a result of COVID-19 and 33% of LGBTQ people and 38% of LGBTQ people have had their work hours reduced.  5 million LGBTQ people work in industries likely to be heavily impacted by the pandemic.

This much-needed victory also comes in the midst of the twin epidemics of COVID-19 and racial violence. Over the past few months, we have witnessed a rash of horrific violence against Black and transgender people:  HRC has found that 73% of transgender and gender non-conforming Americans violently killed since 2013 were Black, and at least 14 transgender and gender non-conforming people have been killed this year alone. We have also seen the Trump administration attack LGBTQ and transgender access to health care by eliminating anti-discrimination health care protections.

These decisions impact areas of the law where Congress has prohibited sex discrimination, but there are too many places in law that lack these protections. The Senate should join the House and move immediately to pass the Equality Act—which would codify protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, credit, education and jury service as well as add much-needed protections for sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in public spaces and services, as well as federally-funded programs. Reintroduced in Congress in March, the bipartisan legislation has growing, unprecedented support, including from nearly 70 percent of Americans, hundreds of members of Congress, more than 250 major businesses, more than 500 social justice, religious, medical and child welfare organizations, and more than 60 national trade associations including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable. The U.S. House of Representatives passed the bill on a strong, bipartisan vote of 236 to 173 in May of 2019.