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A Momentous Step for Equality: The Significance of the U.S. Supreme Court's Decision to Extend Title VII Protections to LGBT and Transgender Workers

Allred, Maroko & Goldberg is elated to see that millions of LGBT and transgender individuals in the United States are now explicitly protected from workplace discrimination under federal law. Yesterday's landmark civil rights ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court finally made clear that Title VII prohibits an employer from firing, demoting, refusing to hire or otherwise discriminating against a worker based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The June 15, 2020 ruling combined ruling in three cases - two about discrimination against gay people and one about discrimination against a transgender person. Justice Neil Gorsuch, President Trump's first appointee to the Supreme Court, wrote the 6-3 majority decision. The Court concluded unequivocally that when an employer fires an individual based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, "Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids."

There are approximately 7.1 million gay, lesbian and bisexual workers in the U.S., according to CNN, as well as an estimated 1 million workers who identify as transgender. The recent Supreme Court ruling immediately provides those individuals the opportunity for legal recourse under federal law should an employer discriminate against them based on their orientation or identity.

Some states - including California - had previously established their own such laws. But currently, fewer than half of U.S. states have adopted these types of measures. Now, even workers in states without sexual orientation or gender identity protections have legal recourse regarding workplace discrimination. In addition, workers in states with their own discrimination protections can more easily bring a federal action.

It is worth noting, however, that Title VII applies only to employers with 15 or more employees. Smaller businesses will not necessarily be directly impacted by this federal Supreme Court decision.

The Potential Long-Term Impact of the Supreme Court's Landmark Ruling

This decision could be a harbinger of LGBTQ legal victories to come. As Politico notes, the ruling could open the door for similar legal protections in other areas of private business, as well as schools and other institutions.

Such moves are not a given, however. According to the Associated Press, there are multiple ongoing cases regarding LGBT and transgender rights. That includes:

  • Participation in school athletics
  • Locker room and bathroom use
  • The citing of religious objections as a reason to not hire a LGBT or transgender individual

Those cases will work their way through the courts in due time. For now, this is one of the Supreme Court's most significant rulings with respect to establishing the civil rights of gay and transgender individuals and guaranteeing them protections while on the job. A copy of the Supreme Court's ruling can be found here.

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