The Supreme Court of the United States handed down a landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, by holding that an employer who discriminates against employees due to being homosexual or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII makes it “unlawful . . . for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U. S. C. §2000e–2(a)(1). In the case, Clayton County, Georgia fired long-time employee, Gerald Bostock, for “conduct ‘unbecoming’ a county employee” after Mr. Bostock joined a gay recreational softball league.
There were also two other cases with similar underlying facts of employees being terminated for their sexual orientation or because they were transgender. Each of the three employees sued, alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. While, in Mr. Bostock’s case, the Eleventh Circuit held that Title VII does not prohibit employers from firing employees because they are gay, two other Circuits (the Second and Sixth) held that homosexual or transgender employees were federally protected from discrimination in employment under Title VII.
The Supreme Court resolved the split amongst the Circuits by reasoning that discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat employees differently because of their sex, which is a clear statutory violation. To that end, the Court closely examined the role of intent, stating, “[w]hen an employer fires an employee for being homosexual or transgender, it necessarily intentionally discriminates against that individual in part because of sex.”
The Court rejected each of the employers’ arguments, including that an employer can escape liability under Title VII by demonstrating that it treats male and female homosexual or transgender employees in the same way. The Court further rejected the argument that few people would have expected Title VII to apply to this situation. In doing so, it noted that while a statutory term could have had a different meaning in the past, the employers failed to show any historical proof that the meaning of the language has, in fact, changed, or that the terms carried some missed message.
The 6-3 decision is a huge win for homosexual and transgender employees, who now have federal protection under Title VII!