US Supreme Court bars discrimination against LGBT workers in landmark ruling
The US Supreme Court has delivered a watershed victory for LGBT rights — and a defeat for President Donald Trump’s administration — by ruling that a longstanding law barring workplace discrimination also protects gay and transgender employees.
- The justices voted 6-3 in the ruling, with two conservative judges voting alongside four liberals
- Workplace bias against LGBT people had previously been legal across much of the US
- The Trump administration backed the employers who had been sued for discrimination
The landmark 6-3 ruling represented the biggest moment for LGBT rights in the United States since the Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015.
Two conservative justices joined the court’s four liberals in the decision: Neil Gorsuch, a 2017 Trump administration appointee who wrote the ruling, and Chief Justice John Roberts.
The justices decided that gay and transgender people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as race, colour, national origin and religion.
Workplace bias against gay and transgender employees had remained legal in much of the country, with 28 US states lacking comprehensive measures against employment discrimination.
The ruling, which involved two gay rights cases from Georgia and New York and a transgender rights case from Michigan, recognises new worker protections in federal law.
“The Supreme Court’s historic decision affirms what shouldn’t have even been a debate: LGBTQ Americans should be able to work without fear of losing jobs because of who they are,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of gay rights group GLAAD.
The legal fight focused on the definition of “sex” in Title VII. The plaintiffs, along with civil rights groups and many large companies, had argued that discriminating against gay and transgender workers was inherently based on their sex and consequently was illegal.
Mr Trump’s administration had backed the employers who were sued for discrimination. The administration and the employers argued that Congress did not intend for Title VII to protect gay and transgender people when it passed the law.
Justice Gorsuch conceded that point in his opinion but said what mattered was the text of the law.
“An employer who fires 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,” he wrote.
Strongly supported by evangelical Christian voters, Mr Trump has taken actions that have undermined gay and transgender rights since taking office in 2017.
Conservative Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh dissented from the ruling. Writing in dissent, Justice Alito said the court had basically rewritten the law.
‘The immutable law of the land’
“No trans people and no lesbian or gay people can ever be fired or discriminated against for being gay or transgender — that’s the immutable law of the land now,” said Vandy Beth Glenn, who was fired in 2007 when she came out as a trans woman.
More than half of LGBT Americans live in states without explicit workplace protections, according to US think tank Movement Advancement Project, meaning they could be fired or harassed for being gay or trans with little legal recourse.
Gerald Bostock, a Georgia man who lost his job as a child welfare services coordinator after joining a gay recreational softball team, said there were “truly no words to describe just how elated” he was after hearing of the ruling.
“When I was fired seven years ago, I was devastated,” he said in a statement.
“Today, we can go to work without the fear of being fired for who we are and who we love.”
Mr Bostock’s case was one of three addressed in the court decision.
Nicolas Talbott, a transgender man challenging a US ban on trans people serving in the military, also hailed the ruling.
“I know what it’s like to be told I can’t do a job I’m qualified for just because I’m transgender,” he said in a statement.
“Especially now, when so many have lost jobs and are struggling, the last thing we should be doing is erecting barriers that keep people who want to work and contribute from doing so.”