The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that employers cannot fire workers because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.
In a 6-3 vote, the justices found that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”
The landmark case — one of the most consequential of the current term — looked into whether the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sex, also includes discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
Other decisions announced today include the following:
The decision combines three cases, all of which revolved around an employer who allegedly fired a long-time employee for being gay or transgender.
In the first, Bostock vs. Clayton County, Gerald Bostock was fired for “conduct unbecoming of its employees” after he joined a gay softball league.
In another, the most recognizable, Aimee Stephens, who died last month from complications of kidney failure, was fired from her job in Detroit, Mich., in 2013, after telling her employer she was transgender. The 59-year-old former funeral director had been employed for six years, but two weeks after she came out to her boss, she was fired.
In the third, the late Donald Zarda said he was fired from a skydiving company in New York “because he did not conform to the sex stereotype that men should be attracted only to women,” a respondent brief filed by the ACLU stated.
Zarda, who died in 2014 in a BASE-jumping accident at 44, sued his New York employer, Altitude Express, after he was fired.
In 2010, when he worked as a diving instructor, Zarda told a female customer that he was gay, to make her feel more comfortable when strapped to him. Her boyfriend didn’t like the comment, and later complained to Altitude Express, his employer.
“After the jump he was fired,” his sister, Melissa Zarda, wrote in an op-ed published in Time last year.
His employer claimed he had engaged in “inappropriate behavior in the workplace.”
Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the decision, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and the liberal justices, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.
“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,” Gorsuch wrote. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Gorsuch compared the decision to the subsequent results of the Civil Rights Act, including “the prohibition (of) discrimination on the basis on motherhood or its ban on the sexual harassment of male employees.”
In his dissent, Alito argues that the Supreme Court’s decision is “legislation” and that Title VII, as written, only protects based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin, not sexual orientation or gender identity.
“Usurping the constitutional authority of the other branches, the Court has essentially taken H. R. 5’s provision on employment discrimination and issued it under the guise of statutory interpretation,” Alito wrote. “A more brazen abuse of our authority to interpret statutes is hard to recall.”
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