US Supreme Court Decision Clarifies Gender Discrimination Question for the LGBTQ Community
By D. Beth Langley, Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, LLP
On 15 June 2020, the United States Supreme Court in a 6–3 decision issued a landmark ruling, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, that, by its plain language, prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bi, trans, and intersex (LGBTQ) individuals. The ruling comes out of the hearing of three separate cases by the Supreme Court on 08 October 2019. Each case started similarly:
Long-time employees were fired after revealing to their employer, or the employer learning, that the employee was gay or transgender. In Zarda v. Altitude Express Inc., Donald Zarda worked as a skydiving instructor for Altitude Express for several seasons. He was fired shortly after disclosing he is gay. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals concluded that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates Title VII.
The second case, Bostock v. Clayton County, involved Gerald Bostock, who worked as a child welfare services coordinator in Clayton County for a decade. Not long after Bostock began participating in a gay recreational softball league, influential members of the community allegedly began making comments about his sexual orientation. He was fired for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee.
The third case, Stephens v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., involved a transgender and transitioning employee, Aimee Stephens, who presented as a male when she began working at a funeral home. Six years later, she was diagnosed with gender dysphoria and her doctors recommended she begin living as a woman. When she explained her diagnosis to the funeral homeowner, she was fired. The funeral home’s defences included an argument that Title VII did not protect transgender, and that Stephens’ claims were barred by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act due to the religious beliefs of the funeral home’s owner. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the funeral home on both issues. Only the Title VII issue was before the Supreme Court.
D. Beth LangleyGGI member firm
Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard LLP
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Brooks, Pierce, McLendon, Humphrey & Leonard, LLP is a fullservice corporate law firm providing innovative and comprehensive legal services to businesses, organisations, and individuals worldwide.
D. Beth Langley is a Partner in the firm’s Greensboro office, with over 25 years of experience counselling employers of all sizes in a wide range of employment law issues and in employment litigation involving civil rights, non-competition agreements, and trade secret protection.
Published: Labour Law Newsletter, No. 09, Autumn 2020 l Photo: SeanPavonePhoto - stock.adobe.com