Supreme Court delivers big win for LGBTQ workers

The US Supreme Court ruled on Monday, local time, that a landmark civil rights law protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from discrimination in employment situations.

The court voted 6-3 that a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as Title VII that prohibits job discrimination because of sex, also is inclusive of bias against LGBT workers.

The ruling is a substantial victory for LGBT Americans at a time when fears of equal rights being eroded feel rampant.

That the decision comes from the highest court in the nation, which is majority conservative, is a welcome relief in troubled times.

It is a blow to the administration of US President Donald Trump, whose administration has sought to roll back the rights of minorities and increase religious freedom.

"Today we must decide whether someone can be fired simply for being homosexual or transgender," the court said. "The answer is clear."

Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights activists, as well as Democratic politicians and several major businesses, had been demanding that the court spell out that the community was actually protected from discrimination under 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," Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the court. "Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids."

The decision was a defeat not just for unscrupulous employers, but for conservatives who would surmise that the law's wording favour the employer over the employee.

Justice Gorsuch, a conservative appointee of President Donald Trump, concluded the opposite.

 

The Supreme Court has ruled that a landmark civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment. It's a resounding victory for LGBT rights from a conservative court. Picture: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File
The Supreme Court has ruled that a landmark civil rights law protects gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination in employment. It's a resounding victory for LGBT rights from a conservative court. Picture: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File

He was joined in the majority by Chief Justice John Roberts and the court's four liberal members.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Mr Trump's other Supreme Court appointee, dissented, along with Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.

Justice Kavanaugh wrote in a separate dissent that the court was rewriting the law to include gender identity and sexual orientation, a job that belongs to Congress.

He did acknowledge that the decision represents an "important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans."

"This is a huge victory for LGBTQ equality," said James Esseks, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBTQ & HIV Project.

"The court has caught up to the majority of our country, which already knows that discriminating against LGBTQ people is both unfair and against the law," he said in a statement.

The decision was hailed by Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for US president.

"Before today, in more than half of states, LGBTQ+ people could get married one day and be fired from their job the next day under state law, simply because of who they are or who they love."

Rights activists had feared that the appointment by Mr Trump of two new conservative judges to the nation's top court could block or even rescind any advancement of LGBT rights and protections.

Transgender people in particular are subject to higher rates of discrimination, poverty, and abuse than other sexual minorities.

Transgender woman Alison Gill from Maryland, joins LGBT supporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Picture: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File
Transgender woman Alison Gill from Maryland, joins LGBT supporters in front of the U.S. Supreme Court. Picture: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File

The ruling is expected to have a big impact for the estimated 8.1 million LGBT workers across the country whose states mostly don't protect them from workplace discrimination.

An estimated 11.3 million LGBT people live in the US, according to data from the Williams Institute at the UCLA law school.

But Monday's decision is not likely to be the court's final say on LGBT rights, Justice Gorsuch noted.

Ongoing litigation around transgender athletes; sex-segregated bathrooms and locker rooms; religious freedom in reaction to LGBT people are issues that continue to be unresolved and may come up during arguments in October.

"But none of these other laws are before us; we have not had the benefit of adversarial testing about the meaning of their terms, and we do not prejudge any such question today," wrote Justice Gorsuch.

Supporters of LGBT rights stage a protest on the street in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. Picture: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File
Supporters of LGBT rights stage a protest on the street in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington. Picture: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File

The cases were the court's first on LGBT rights since Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement and replacement by Kavanaugh.

Justice Kennedy was a voice for gay rights and the author of the landmark ruling in 2015 that made same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States.

The Trump administration had changed course from the Obama administration, which supported LGBT workers in their discrimination claims under Title VII. During the Obama years, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission had changed its longstanding interpretation of civil rights law to include discrimination against LGBT people. The law prohibits discrimination because of sex, but has no specific protection for sexual orientation or gender identity.

 

Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is pro-LGBTQ rights. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File
Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is pro-LGBTQ rights. Picture: AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File

 

Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden, Obama's vice president, praised the decision on Twitter as "another step in our march toward equality for all.

The Supreme Court has confirmed the simple but profoundly American idea that every human being should be treated with respect."

In recent years, some lower courts have held that discrimination against LGBT people is a subset of sex discrimination, and thus prohibited by the federal law.

Efforts by Congress to change the law to explicitly bar job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity have so far failed. The Supreme Court cases involved two gay men and a transgender woman who sued for employment discrimination after they lost their jobs.

 

The majority-conservative justices of the U.S. Supreme Court voted in favor of including LGBT people in Title VII, which protects agains job discrimination. They face more issues, especially around transgender rights. Picture: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File
The majority-conservative justices of the U.S. Supreme Court voted in favor of including LGBT people in Title VII, which protects agains job discrimination. They face more issues, especially around transgender rights. Picture: AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File

 

Aimee Stephens lost her job as a funeral director in the Detroit area after she revealed to her boss that she had struggled with gender most of her life and had, at long last, "decided to become the person that my mind already is."

Ms Stephens told funeral homeowner Thomas Rost that following a holiday, she would report to work wearing female clothes.

Mr Rost fired Ms Stephens. The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati, Ohio, ruled that the firing constituted sex discrimination under federal law.

Ms Stephens died last month. Donna Stephens, her wife of 20 years, said in a statement that she is "grateful for this victory to honour the legacy of Aimee, and to ensure people are treated fairly regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

 

Originally published as Supreme Court delivers big win for LGBTQ workers


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