On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that the part of the Civil RIghts Act of 1964 that protects workers from being fired on the basis of race, religion, national origin or sex also applies to the LGBT community. In a 6-3 ruling, the Court ruled that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers legally can’t be fired for their identity for the first time in American history, and that LGBT workers who are fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity can sue their workplaces for discrimination.
Surprisingly, conservative justices Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts sided with the more liberal side of the court and Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion. The opinion seems to rest on an expansion of the meaning of what it means to discriminate against someone based on their sex. The opinion argues that discriminating someone for being transgender or for being gay requires someone to take into account the sex of their employee — making it discrimination on the basis of sex.
The ruling was made after considering two cases — the first lawsuit from a number of gay men who said they were fired because they were gay, and the second from a transgender woman named Aimee Stephens, who passed away last month, who came out as transgender at work and was then promptly fired by the owner of the funeral home she worked at because of her identity. Her former boss, Thomas Rost, said that he had fired Aimee because she “was no longer going to represent himself as a man. He wanted to dress as a woman.”
The landmark ruling represents the first time that LGBT workers had full, federal protection from workplace discrimination on the basis of their identity. While some states had protections for LGBT workers, not every state protected them from workplace discrimination.
To be clear, the full context of the ruling is simply the powerful fact that for the first time in our history, workers who identify as LGBT in the workplace will no longer have to hide their identities in order to maintain their employment across every state in the country. It’s a huge step forward in civil rights.