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SCOTUS Grants Writ of Certiorari for Three LGBT Employment Discrimination Cases

On April 22, 2019, the Supreme Court granted petitions for writs of certiorari in three LGBT employment cases. Each of the three cases addresses whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 offers protection against discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the Plaintiff, Gerald Lynn Bostock, claims his sexual orientation as a gay man was the reason for his termination from Clayton County as a Child Welfare Services Coordinator. The District Court ruled that he had no viable claim because Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Eleventh Circuit established the precedent that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is not a form of sex discrimination protected by Title VII.

In contrast, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., that sexual orientation is protected under Title VII, because the Supreme Court has ruled previously that gender stereotyping violates the statute. The Second Circuit held discrimination based on sexual orientation was an “actionable subset of sex discrimination” because you cannot address sexual orientation without consideration of the individual’s gender and the related stereotypes.

In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, et al., the Sixth Circuit also held that Title VII protects employees who are transgender. Employee Aimee Stephens was terminated when she informed her coworkers that “she was undergoing a gender transition from male to female and intended to dress in appropriate business attire to work as a woman.” Two weeks later she was terminated because the funeral home owner thought he would be “violating God’s commands” by allowing Stephens to dress in women’s clothing. The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on Stephens’ behalf, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit ruled for the EEOC and Stephens.

Supreme Court Recognizes Constitutional Right to Marriage Equality

Today, the United States Supreme Court agreed that the Constitution granted the liberty “to define and express their identity” by “marrying someone of the same sex and having their marriages deemed lawful on the same terms and conditions as marriages between persons of the opposite sex.” The groundbreaking decision, available here, recognized that the personal choice of who to marry is “inherent in the concept of individual autonomy,” a central concept of the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections of life, liberty and property. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the Court, eloquently summed up the matter in his concluding statement:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say that they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

The Minnesota Human Rights Act has long recognized the right to equal treatment of individuals regardless of their sexual orientation and sexual identity. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on the employee’s sexual orientation, self-image, and identity. In fact, recognizing that discriminators often try to stigmatize people based on sexual orientation and identity, Minnesota law also prohibits discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation and identity. And, if an employee complains about sexual orientation discrimination, Minnesota law protects them from retaliation.

For more information about the impact of the Supreme Court’s ruling, or employment law protecting the LGBTQ community, please contact us.