U.S. Supreme Court Issues a Decision Protecting Gay and Transgender Employees Under Title VII

On the morning of Monday, June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision on whether an employer could fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender.  Finding “[t]he answer is clear,” the Supreme Court held that an “employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”

Granting certiorari in three out of four recent circuit court decisions, the Supreme Court has resolved a circuit split between the Second, Sixth, and Seventh Circuits on one side, and the Eleventh Circuit on the other.

The Second Circuit in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., 883 F.3d 100 (2d Cir. 2018) and the Seventh Circuit in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, 853 F.3d 339, 341 (7th Cir. 2017) both held that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.  And the Sixth Circuit in EEOC v. R.G., 884 F.3d 560 (6th Cir. 2018) held “discrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status violates Title VII” because “[d]iscrimination on the basis of transgender and transitioning status is necessarily discrimination on the basis of sex . . . . Here, [the employer’s] decision to fire [the employee] because [the employee] was ‘no longer going to represent himself as a man’ and ‘wanted to dress as a woman,’ falls squarely within the ambit of sex-based discrimination.”  But the Eleventh Circuit in Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, 850 F.3d 1248 (11th Cir. 2017) rejected a complaint filed by a lesbian security guard alleging discrimination based on her sexual orientation. 

The outcome of this recent Supreme Court decision could impact LGBT workers across the United States because many jurisdictions do not protect them from workplace discrimination.  If you have questions, would like more information, or would like to discuss how this decision may influence you or your business, please contact Melissa A. Springer, Colleen M. Blandford, and Anthony J. Caruso.