Today, the Supreme Court that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination. Until Monday’s decision, it was legal in more than half the states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. The vastly consequential decision extended workplace protections to millions of people across the nation, continuing a series of Supreme Court victories for gay rights even after President Trump transformed the court with two appointments.
The decision, covering two sets of cases, was the court’s first on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights since the retirement in 2018 of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinions in all four of the court’s major gay-rights decisions. Proponents of these rights had worried that his departure would halt the progress of the movement toward equality.
“This is a simple and profound victory for LGBTQ+ civil rights.,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, a law professor at Columbia. “Many of us feared that the court was poised to gut sex discrimination protections and allow employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity, yet it declined the federal government’s invitation to take that damaging path.”
“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6-to-3 ruling.
Across the nation, 21 states have their own laws prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Seven more provide that protection only to public employees. Those laws remain in force, but Monday’s ruling means federal law now provides similar protection for LGBTQ+ employees in the rest of the country. Gay and transgender rights groups considered the case a highly significant one, even more important than the fight to get the right to marry because nearly every LGBTQ+ adult has or needs a job. They conceded that sexual orientation was not on the minds of anyone in Congress when the civil rights law was passed. But they said when an employer fires a male employee for dating men, but not a female employee who dates men, that violates the law. Many Gay rights advocates celebrated the ruling.
“The Supreme Court’s clarification that it’s unlawful to fire people because they’re LGBTQ+ is the result of decades of advocates fighting for our rights,” said James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project. “The court has caught up to the majority of our country, which already knows that discriminating against LGBTQ+ people is both unfair and against the law.”
We look forward to observing how this newly passed law changes the future of workplaces across the country.