What the Supreme Court ruling on Title VII means for LGBTQ employees

On Monday, The Supreme Court ruled in favor of a civil rights law designed to protect gay, lesbian, and transgender people from discrimination in the workplace with a 6-3 vote.

Although justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas belonged to the minority that voted against the bill, allies and members of The LGBT community had few reasons to anticipate a positive outcome from a conservative court. 

The ruling essentially expanded The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) that abolished discrimination in employment to include sexual orientation and gender identification. 

“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 different sex,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote of his role in the development.“Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Much of the dissenting opinion revolved around hand-wringing about whether or not the ruling fundamentally changed Title VII or if it merely reinforced the pillars of the bill established 56 years ago. 

Alongside a throat-clearing acknowledging the bill as an “important victory achieved by gay and lesbian Americans,”  Kavanaugh contended that the bill is a rewrite of Title VII and that any alterations to the act should be handled by Congress as opposed to SCOTUS.  Justice Alito appears to be in agreement, commenting in a release: 

“The Court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous,” Alito wrote in the dissent. “Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity.’” In a separate statement, Allio characterized the ruling as a threat to religious liberty. 

There have been unsuccessful efforts motioned by Congress to classify LGBT discrimination as a subset of sexual discrimination in the last five years and efforts to convince officials to recognize hiring biases against the community as a federal offense have been comparably ineffectual. 

There are 27 states that do not have explicit statewide laws in place to protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wyoming. 

Paul Donovan, the chief economist at financial firm UBS,  has spoken favorably of the High Court’s decision. Even for citizens that have reservations based on their religious persuasion, limiting the labor force by way of considerations that are wholly irrelevant to output is self-destructive.

“In the U.S., your boss can no longer fire you if they do not like who you date,” Donovan explained in an investor’s report. “That is good news for the U.S. economy. Sixty-percent of other countries still allows discrimination against individuals in the workplace based on sexual orientation. The problem is that a prejudiced firm is still a prejudiced firm,”

Roughly 10% of U.S. workers are LGBTQ members, and about half of those live in states that previously permitted employers to terminate workers based on their sexual orientation. The Supreme Ruling, therefore, has improved workplace protections to include an additional 8 million Americans. 

While the legislative language continues to be debated over by lawmakers and thought leaders, members of the gay and transgender community face increasing instances of violence, suicide, and depression.

The Anti-Violence Project is a 24 hour free and confidential hotline service for LGBTQ members to report on violent incidents:  212-714-1141.

CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com