In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that firing someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That act barred an employer from refusing to hire, firing, or discriminating against an individual “because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
While some states had anti-LGBTQ discrimination laws in place, half of them didn’t, and these state-specific laws varied wildly–for example Wisconsin, which banned firing someone on the basis of their sexuality, but not gender orientation (unless they were a state employee). The ruling finds that LGBTQ workplace discrimination is a violation of federal law. The ruling is both a nice thing for Pride month and about damn time.
The court considered the cases of multiple plaintiffs: Gerald Bostock, who was fired from his job as an official in a Clayton County, Georgia, juvenile court after he joined a gay softball team; Donald Zarda, whom Altitude Express fired after he mentioned being gay; and Aimee Stephens, who presented as male when hired by R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Home, but was fired when she told her employer that she would “live and work full-time as a woman.”
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion, and was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. The decision found that the word “sex” in Title VII applied to sexuality and gender identity, a point contested by the dissenters. The majority opinion reads:
An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex. It makes no difference if other factors besides the plaintiff’s sex contributed to the decision or that the employer treated women as a group the same when compared to men as a group. A statutory violation occurs if an employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee. Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII. There is no escaping the role intent plays: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decisionmaking.
Justices Clarence Thomas, Brett Kavanaugh, and Justice Samuel Alito dissented. Alito’s 54-page dissent includes an additional 53-page appendix that features several definitions of the word “sex” from dictionaries spanning decades—from the Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English 1164 (5th ed. 1964) to American Heritage Dictionary 1605 (5th ed. 2011). Alito refers to the Court’s decision as “legislation,” claiming:
Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of “sex” is different from discrimination because of “sexual orientation” or “gender identity.” And in any event, our duty is to interpret statutory terms to “mean what they conveyed to reasonable people at the time they were written.”... If every single living American had been surveyed in 1964, it would have been hard to find any who thought that discrimination because of sex meant discrimination because of sexual orientation—not to mention gender identity, a concept that was essentially unknown at the time.
Meanwhile, Kavanaugh’s losing opinion slides in at a slim 28 pages.
The announcement of the decision apparently caused the Supreme Court’s website to temporarily crash—behold, the power of a landmark. It’s back up now, though, and the full decision can be read here.