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Employment Discrimination Blog

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Divided Supreme Court to Decide Whether LGBTQ Employees Are Protected from Discrimination

Do federal anti-discrimination laws encompass discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or identity?

The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments in the landmark civil rights case involving LGBTQ employees who claim they were discriminated against at work. The long awaited decision could have significant implications for employees and employers nationwide, as well as LGBTQ people across America. As we await the high court’s decision, our Atlanta employment discrimination lawyers discuss the oral arguments held before the court and what the case might mean nationwide.

How Will the Court Rule?

Analysts believe the Court could rule either way in the controversial employment discrimination case.  It is thought that the Court’s four liberal justices will likely rule that federal law should protect the LGBTQ employees who were fired due to their sexual orientation or transgender status.  What is unclear is whether any of the Court’s more conservative justices will rule in favor of the employees. The case is before a divided Court and the outcome could go either way at this point.

Oral arguments in the case lasted two hours and covered a wide range of LGBTQ related matters, included sex specific bathrooms and dress codes.  The case itself centers on Title 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This act bars job discrimination on the basis of sex. Several courts across the country have interpreted the law to include discrimination against LGBTQ people, holding that the language of the law should embrace discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or identity as part of the broader ruling against sex discrimination.

Thus far, two of the conservative justices, Chief Justice Roberts and Kavanaugh, have not indicated their views on the matter.  Roberts did engage in questioning as to what employers with religious exemptions could do should the employee’s interpretation be accepted.  Justice Gorsuch expressed support for the discriminated workers, but also stated protecting them may be better left to Congress, rather than the courts. Justice Alito suggested Congress did not intend to cover sexual orientation when it passed Title 7 in 1964, while Justice Thomas stated nothing to indicate his opinion. 

Should the Supreme Court rule in favor of the employees and extend civil rights protections to LGBTQ employees, it could have significant implications across the nation.  LGBTQ employees report discrimination in high rates. Federal protection could bring about positive change for LGTBQ employees nationwide. The case could further lead to more extensive protections for LGTBQ people in other areas, like housing discrimination.

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