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What You Need to Know About the Supreme Court’s Decision for LGBTQ Workers

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Monday, June 15, 2020 will be recorded in history as the day it became illegal across the United States for employers to discriminate against LGBTQ workers because of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court ruled, six to three, that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—which protects employees from discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin—also protects employees from discrimination because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.

The decision came in response to three cases the court heard in October 2019. Two centered on employees—a skydiving instructor and a child welfare advocate, respectively—who alleged they were fired for being gay, and a third on a funeral director who was fired after coming out as transgender.

“Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result,” wrote Neil Gorsuch in the court’s majority opinion, joined by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and John Roberts. “Likely, they weren’t thinking about many of the Act’s consequences that have become apparent over the years, including its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of motherhood or its ban on the sexual harassment of male employees. But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”

Why exactly did the court decide as it did? And what does the decision mean for LGBTQ folks—at work and beyond? Here are four must-reads about the landmark decision:

  • The court decided to rule in favor of banning discrimination against LGBTQ workers because, per the majority opinion penned by Gorsuch, it falls under the larger umbrella of sex discrimination, which is already prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. “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,” Gorsuch wrote. (Read more on Vox.)
  • While the ruling is a major step forward for LGBTQ rights in the workplace, it left room for religious exemptions and unanswered questions about how broad those exemptions might be. (Read more on Reuters.)
  • Before the Supreme Court returned its decision on this case, LGBTQ employees were only protected from discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in some states and in some cases—depending on lower court rulings in their jurisdiction. (Read more at NBC News.)
  • The news comes at a time when the White House has been rolling back protections for transgender folks. This particular case focused specifically on employment, but it could also be a catalyst for expanding protections in other areas, such as housing, education, and healthcare. (Read more at The New York Times.)