Supreme Court Outlaws Workplace Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

The nation's highest court has ruled that discrimination against LGBTQ workers violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

By , J.D., University of Missouri School of Law

In a landmark victory for LGBTQ workers, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that employers who discriminate against employees due to their sexual orientation or gender identity violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The case, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (590 U.S. ____ (2020)), involved three individuals who alleged they were fired from their jobs because they were gay or transgender. The question before the Court was whether Title VII's ban on sex discrimination covers discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status.

Writing for the 6-3 majority, Justice Neal Gorsuch noted:

In our time, few pieces of federal legislation rank in significance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There, in Title VII, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. 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. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.

As a result of this decision, employers nationwide are barred from discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in any aspect of employment, including hiring, training, promotion, compensation, discipline, and termination. And, because harassment is a form of discrimination under federal law, the ruling also prohibits workplace harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Prior to the Bostock ruling, more than half the states and hundreds of cities and counties had laws banning workplace discrimination and harassment against gay and transgender people.

Decided June 15, 2020.