The Supreme Court’s Extension of the Civil Rights Act to Protect Gay and Transgender Workers

A rainbow pride flag soars above the U.S. Supreme Court building following the decision last Monday, June 15th.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Title VII, equal employment opportunity, within the Civil Rights Act.

This pride month the US Supreme Court expanded Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 through the addition of sexual orientation and transgender status within the legal definition of sex discrimination regarding employment opportunities. The 6-3 Supreme Court ruling last Monday marks the most historic legal decision for the LGBT community since the 5-4 ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015, which legalized the marriage of same-sex couples at the federal level. Following decades of activism against the oppression of marginalized groups, the Civil Rights Act passed to prohibit the segregation and discrimination of persons in the workforce.

“Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.”

However, until last week, this act did not encompass gay or transgender individuals. In fact, prior to this S.C. decision, employers in more than half of US states could legally terminate a worker’s employment for identifying as gay, bisexual, or transgender. The S.C.’s new ruling is an addition to this 1964 decision by implementing a broader interpretation of sex discrimination that goes beyond defining gender by biological sex: male or female. Therefore, this case will forbid employers nationwide from firing their gay and transgender workers.

President Trump reverses the Obama administration’s health care protections for transgender patients.

It is important to note that the announcement of this decision came just three days after President Trump’s administration declared alterations to Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act, reversing the protection of transgender individuals within health care systems granted by the Obama administration in 2016. On June 12th, President Trump removed the nondiscrimination security for LGBT people by identifying “sex discrimination,” outlined in the section, as only applicable to individuals who base their gender identity off of their biological sex. Furthermore, while the Obama administration defined sex by one’s gender identity, the Trump administration has chosen to enforce that health care systems should base a patient’s gender strictly on their biological sex and have the right to deny treatment to any person who does not abide by the gender reflected in their scientific make-up. Additionally, it is intriguing to underscore that the Trump administration’s statement was issued the same day as the four year anniversary of the shooting in Orlando, Florida that resulted in the loss of 49 lives at the popular LGBTQ nightclub, the Pulse.

The arguments and votes of Trump’s two Supreme Court appointees in the case.

Many question how the conservative Supreme Court justices appointed by President Trump – Justice Neil Gorsuch and Justice Brett Kavanaugh – responded to the news of Trump’s elimination of protection for discriminated against transgender patients and how this may have impacted their voting. Justice Kavanaugh’s opposition to the new Supreme Court ruling was easily predicted as he has historically sided with traditional conservative social values. Moreover, his reasoning for rejecting the vote was that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was generated as an output to the women’s rights movement and should not be grouped together with the gay pride movement. This was revealed when Kavanugh wrote “Seneca Falls was not Stonewall.” The Seneca Falls Convention took place in 1848 and signifies the birth of first wave feminism as American women rallied together to advocate for their suffrage. Kavanuagh contrasted this historical event with the Stonewall Riots of 1969, where the LGBT community led a series of protests in Greenwich Village, New York following the police raids at Stonewall Inn, a hotspot for gay and lesbian nightlife. By addressing the differences in these two monumental civil rights events, Kavanaugh agreed with the Trump administration by declaring that sex discrimination in legislation should be applied to only biological sex. Therefore, he does not believe that sexual orientation and transgender status – associated with the LGBT rights movement – should be categorized with the women’s rights movement.

On the other hand, Justice Gorsuch’s decision to side with Chief Justice Roberts and the four Democratic justices by favoring  the inclusion of gay and transgender rights in the workplace came as a shock to many. As a proponent of natural law and a textualist judicial interpretation, Gorsuch was expected to dissent as he did in the 2017 LGBT rights Supreme Court Case: Pavan v. Smith. Yet, rather than siding with Justice Alito, Thomas and Kavanaugh, Gorsuch wrote and delivered the majority opinion.

“An employer who fired 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,” Gorsuch stated.

The impact of the Supreme Court ruling on LGBT employees.

Overall, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to encompass the protection of gay and transgender employees within Title VII demonstrates the judicial body’s progressed openness towards the LGBT community. The ruling was an output of the combination of three major cases that dealt with employment protection on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity: Bostock v. Clayton County,GA, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Gerald Bostock quickly lost his job as an official of Clayton County’s juvenile court after discussing his participation in a gay softball league at work. Donald Zara was fired from his position as a skydiving instructor in Long Island, NY after telling a customer that he is “100 percent gay.” Finally, Aimee Stephens’ decision to dress in women’s clothes to work after announcing her transgender status resulted in termination from her employment at a funeral home in Michigan. Now, after the Supreme Court’s update to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the occupational status of gay and transgender employees nationwide is no longer dependent upon their marginalized identities.

However, there remains many uncertainties about how this ruling will be instilled in varied professional fields. How will companies adjust their policies to prevent discrimination against sexual orientation and gender? What will this mean for gay and transgender workers in bathroom and changing room settings? How will this protection be applied to sports, housing and health care institutions? While the SC decision is viewed as an enormous victory for the LGBT community, it has also provoked an abundance of questions that could potentially lead to future Supreme Court cases.

 

Sources:

https://www.eeoc.gov/statutes/title-vii-civil-rights-act-1964

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/15/us/gay-transgender-workers-supreme-court.html

https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/supreme-court/supreme-court-rules-existing-civil-rights-law-protects-gay-lesbian-n1231018

https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/12/868073068/transgender-health-protections-reversed-by-trump-administration

Image Source:

https://www.newyorker.com/news/our-columnists/the-supreme-court-considers-lgbt-rights-but-cant-stop-talking-about-bathrooms

Caroline Swanson – I am a double major in political science, specializing in American politics, and media studies at the University of California, Berkeley. As an aspiring political journalist I decided to join the political awareness team because it prioritizes unbiased political education that is essential for citizens to be actively engaged in our governmental institutions. I am eager to write and share about women in political positions and the United States’ role in global politics!

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