On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court decided three cases holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which is the federal law prohibiting workplace discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex, also protects homosexual and transgender workers. In each of these cases, the employers allegedly fired a long-time employee for being homosexual or transgender.
Specifically, the Court held that “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.” As such, the Court held that discrimination “based on sex” includes protection for homosexual and transgender workers. The 6-3 ruling made clear that “an individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions”, and that any employment decisions based on those factors is impossible to make “without discriminating against that individual based on sex.” Accordingly, such conduct violates Title VII. Title VII applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined. Justice Alito filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Thomas. Justice Kavanaugh filed a dissenting opinion.
For employers in Colorado, this ruling will not significantly change current employment practices or policies. Colorado law already protects individuals from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. However, for employers in other states, this landmark ruling means that gay and transgender individuals may not be fired, harassed, or subjected to other discriminatory employment practices because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. To be sure, this decision strengthens those existing protections for workers in Colorado and across the country.
What is written here is intended as general information and is not to be construed as legal advice. If legal advice is needed, you should consult an attorney.