Title VII Protects Homosexual and Transgender Workers

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Title VII outlaws discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Until yesterday, federal courts across the country were divided on whether Title VII also protects LGBTQ employees from adverse employment actions based on their sexual orientation and gender identity. The Supreme Court ruled in a 6-to-3 majority that it does.

One of the cases presented to the Supreme Court arose from an appeal from the Sixth Circuit (whose jurisdiction includes Ohio).  In that case, Employer R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes fired Aimee Stephens, who presented as a male when she was hired, after she informed her employer that she planned to “live and work full-time as a woman.” The Sixth Circuit ruled in March 2018 that Title VII’s “discrimination by sex” does include transgender persons.

The Supreme Court arrived at its conclusion in part because Title VII already prohibits employment discrimination based even partially on sex. Discrimination against people for being homosexual or transgender is at least partially based on the person’s sex. It therefore follows that Title VII prohibits firing a person for being homosexual or transgender.

The Supreme Court concludes: “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.” The Supreme Court’s dissent concedes that LGBTQ employees deserve to be treated fairly in the workplace but argue that the text of Title VII does not protect such employees. They also argue that the Court’s majority opinion legislates new law, violating separation of powers.

Because the Sixth Circuit held in 2018 that Title VII protects transgender employees, Ohio employer policies and practices should already be in compliance with yesterday’s Supreme Court decision.  While Congress has not expressly changed the text of Title VII to include references to sexual orientation or gender identity, employers must ensure that they are not taking any adverse employment action against employees in whole or in part because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  Employers may wish to update their employment policies to expressly include these characteristics, but at a minimum must ensure that their practices comply with the law.

The full text of the Supreme Court’s opinion is available here.

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This update is not intended to constitute legal advice or form an attorney-client relationship.