In a landmark ruling on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostick v. Clayton County, Georgia, that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (which prohibits discrimination against individuals in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin) protects gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees from workplace discrimination based on sex. Justice Neil Gorsuch, wrote the Court’s 6-3 majority opinion.
The Supreme Court’s decision addressed a split of authority between the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals which held that a male employee could be terminated for being homosexual and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals holding the opposite. The Court’s decision also addressed the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals’ holding that Title VII bars employers from discriminating against employees because of their transgender status.
Writing for the majority, Justice Gorsuch reminds us throughout the opinion that the aim of Title VII in prohibiting sex discrimination is not to ensure employers treat women as a group the same as men as a group, but that Title VII prohibits discrimination against individuals based on their sex. In holding that “an individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions,” Justice Gorsuch writes, “[i]t is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
The majority acknowledged that Congress in 1964 likely did not have the LGBTQ community in mind when it banned employment-based discrimination based on sex. But, the majority notes that Congress wrote Title VII in “starkly broad terms” and made the key drafting choice to “focus on discrimination against individuals and not merely between groups…virtually guarant[ying] that unexpected applications would emerge over time.”
As a result of this opinion, federal law now protects LGBTQ employees nationwide from firing and other adverse employment decisions made on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity, even in states that previously afforded LGBTQ employees no legal protections, of which North Carolina was one.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s full opinion can be found here.