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On Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled that the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex should be interpreted to include sexual orientation and gender identity.
In a 6-3 decision, the country’s SC decided that gay and transgender people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The title prohibits employment discrimination based on race, colour, religion, sex and national origin.
The ruling comes just a few days after US President Donald Trump rolled back Obama-era regulations that prohibited discrimination in health care against transgender patients.
As per Title VII, it is unlawful for an employer, “to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or”.
“to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
Essentially, with this landmark ruling, the SC has said that Title VII’s provision, which says that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, includes LGBTQ employees. The ruling involved three cases filed by employees who claimed they were fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
In response to the ruling, Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) president Alphonso David said in a statement, “This is a landmark victory for LGBTQ equality.”
“No one should be denied a job or fired simply because of who they are or whom they love. For the past two decades, federal courts have determined that discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ status is unlawful discrimination under federal law. Today’s historic ruling by the Supreme Court affirms that view, but there is still work left to be done. In many aspects of the public square, LGBTQ people still lack non-discrimination protections, which is why it is crucial that Congress pass the Equality Act to address the significant gaps in federal civil rights laws and improve protections for everyone,” he added.
In the statement, HRC has said that while this ruling is “much-needed”, there are still “too many” places in law that lack protections. The group recommends that the Senate and House pass the Equality Act, which will codify protections for LGBTQ people in employment, housing, credit, education and jury service.
The three employees were: Aimee Stephens, Donald Zarda and Gerald Bostock.
Bostock, who is the only living plaintiff, said in his petition, “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. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Bostock claimed that he was fired by his employer after he joined a gay recreational softball league. Bostock’s employer, Clayton County, Georgia, claimed that he was fired because his conduct was “unbecoming”.
In the case of Stephens, who worked as a funeral director, she was fired by her business owner after she disclosed she is transgender. In March 2018, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that when the funeral home fired her for being transgender, it violated Title VII.
In the case of Zarda, a skydiving instructor who died in 2014, he was fired from his job because of his sexual orientation. Previously, a federal trial court had rejected his discrimination claim. In February 2018, the full Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of discrimination based on sex and therefore, prohibited under Title VII of the Act.
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