SCOTUS Prohibits Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity

On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in a landmark case, Bostock v. Clayton County, that an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII).

Under Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual in any employment-related benefit, term, or condition (hiring, firing, promotion, etc.) because of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. In this case, the court discussed that an employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires (or refuses to hire) an individual based in part on sex. It is irrelevant if other factors, aside from the individual’s sex, contributed to the employer’s decision. This is because it is a Title VII violation if an employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge them. In Bostock, the court held that because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individuals differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an individual for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII.

The court also clarified that:

  • It is irrelevant what an employer might call its discriminatory practice, how others might label it, or what else might motivate it. When an employer fires an employee for being homosexual or transgender, it necessarily intentionally discriminates against that individual in part because of sex.  

  • An individual’s sex does not need to be the sole or primary cause of the employer’s adverse action. It is of no significance if another factor, such as an individual’s attraction to the same sex or presentation as a different sex from the one assigned at birth, might also be at work, or even play a more important role in the employer’s decision.

  • Employers cannot escape liability by demonstrating it treats males and females comparably as group. An employer who intentionally fires an individual homosexual or transgender employee in part because of their sex violates the law even if the employer is willing to subject all male and female homosexual or transgender employees to the same rule.
     

The court clearly stated, “In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee. We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

This ruling takes immediate effect.

Read the ruling.