In a split 6-3 decision, the US Supreme Court ruled, on June 15, that the legislation in place to protect workers from discrimination should now include basis against sexuality and gender identity.
Five years after the decision to protect same-sex marriage, the majority conservative US Supreme Court’s surprise ruling came as two republican appointees joined the court’s four liberal justices.
As Pride month is celebrated around the world, and we pass the anniversary of the Pulse Club shooting, where 49 were killed in a gay nightclub in Florida, it is a bittersweet reminder of how far society has come, and how far it still needs to go in protecting the rights of the LGBT+ community.
The US Supreme Court’s ruling arose from a trio of cases where gay and transgender workers said they had been fired because of those characteristics. Aimee Stephens, Gerald Bostock and Donald Zarda said they were dismissed due to their gender identity and sexual orientation, and so took it to lower courts to seek justice. Since their cases began, both Stephens and Zarda have passed away.
Aimee Stephens, who was fired after coming out as transgender released a statement before her passing: “Firing me because I’m transgender was discrimination, plain and simple, and I am glad the courts recognised that what happened to me is wrong and illegal.
“I am thankful that the court said my transgender siblings and I have a place in our laws – it made me feel safer and more included in our society.”
Bill Moore, Donald Zarda’s partner also shared a statement ahead of the ruling: I know how important it is, and how much Don would want me to keep fighting not just on his behalf, but on behalf of all the LGBT+ people in this country for whom workplaces remain unsafe and inhospitable. It would be life-changing for so many people to be able to stop worrying and know they can simply be themselves.”
The ruling states that the 1964 Civil Rights Act can also be applied to protect sexual orientation and gender identity, meaning that employers cannot fire employees due to those characteristics.
Chief Justice John Roberts, an appointee of Republican George W Bush and the most senior member of the US Supreme Court, argued that discrimination against gay and transgender people includes judgments about their sex.
Judge Neil Gorsuch, an appointee of current President Donald Trump helped welcome a majority in this decision, despite the Trump administration’s rollback of Obama-era protections of LGBT+ rights, and their decision to ban transgender people from joining the military. Gorsuch wrote quite simply: “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.
“An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions.
“That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
Under Title VII of the Act, discrimination based on “race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin” is banned. The US Supreme Court’s ruling said the ban on “sex” discrimination covered gay and transgender people.
The Trump administration had argued that Title VII did not protect gay and transgender people. Under the Obama administration, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces the anti-discrimination law, said that the Act included gender identity and sexual orientation. However, this was repealed by the Trump administration.
On the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the Trump administration repealed further Obama-era legislation regarding the LGBT+ community, allowing healthcare providers to deny insurance based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
When discussing the landmark ruling with reporters, President Trump said: “They’ve ruled, and we live with their decision. That’s what it’s all about. We live with the decision of the Supreme Court.
“We live with the decision of the Supreme Court, very powerful. A very powerful decision, actually, but they have so ruled.”
The presumptive Democratic nominee for the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden, however, was far more optimistic about the decision, writing: “Today, by affirming that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Supreme Court has confirmed the simple but profoundly American idea that every human being should be treated with respect and dignity. That everyone should be able to live openly, proudly, as their true selves without fear.”
The decision by the US Supreme Court was not only celebrated within the political sphere but was also welcomed by several chief executives.
Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, who came out as gay in 2014, said: “Grateful for today’s decision by the Supreme Court. LGBTQ people deserve equal treatment in the workplace and throughout society, and today’s decision further underlines that federal law protects their right to fairness.”
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also echoed the celebrations, tweeting: “Today’s Supreme Court ruling that the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ+ people in the workplace is a huge step forward in fighting against discrimination. I’m grateful to see this progress and good news. The LGBTQ+ community deserves fair and equal treatment just like everyone else, and I’m glad our highest court has affirmed those rights.”
It marked “a historic day for LGBTQ Americans and we’re proud to stand with this community,” wrote Mary Barra of General Motors. Microsoft’s Satya Nadella called on his social media followers to “use this decision as a catalyst to drive progress in our society”.
Ray Dalio, co-chairman of Bridgewater Associates, said: “History has shown, and logic dictates, that if the system doesn’t strive to create equal opportunity for everyone who is able to work and to provide basic support for everyone who is not, the system will inevitably experience some form of revolution.”