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Supreme court issues landmark decision protecting LGBTQ workers from discrimination under civil rights law
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By Eric Revell, Countable News
What’s the story?
- The Supreme Court on Monday issued a landmark 6-3 decision which held that firing a gay or transgender employee simply because of their sexual orientation is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans discrimination on the basis of sex.
- The case, known as Bostock v. Clayton County, concerned an employee of Clayton County, Georgia, who was fired despite good performance records for “conduct unbecoming a county employee” after he joined a gay softball league and promoted it.
- The Supreme Court’s decision consolidated Bostock’s case with two similar cases, Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., which also concerned workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which involved workplace discrimination against a transgender employee.
What did the justices say?
- The majority opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, plus the Court’s liberals ― Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan. Gorsuch wrote:
“Some of those who supported adding language to Title VII to ban sex discrimination may have hoped it would derail the entire Civil Rights Act. Yet, contrary to those intentions, the bill became law. Since then, Title VII’s effects have unfolded with far-reaching consequences, some likely beyond what many in Congress or elsewhere expected.
"But none of this helps decide today’s cases. Ours is a society of written laws. Judges are not free to overlook plain statutory commands on the strength of nothing more than suppositions about intentions or guesswork about expectations. In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee. We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
- Justice Samuel Alito disagreed with the majority on the grounds that the Court was overreaching to find protections that weren’t included in the original law. He wrote a dissent that was joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, which concluded (emphasis original):
“The updating desire to which the Court succumbs no doubt arises from humane and generous impulses. Today, many Americans know individuals who are gay, lesbian, or transgender and want them to be treated with the dignity, consideration, and fairness that everyone deserves. But the authority of the Court is limited to saying what the law is. The Court itself recognizes this: “The place to make new legislation… lies in Congress. When it comes to statutory interpretation, our role is limited to applying the law’s demands as faithfully as we can in the cases that come before us.” It is easy to utter such words. If only the Court would live by them. I respectfully dissent.”
- Justice Brett Kavanaugh also dissented, citing similar concerns as those expressed by Alito and Thomas that “[i]nstead of a hard-earned victory won through the democratic process, today’s victory is brought about by judicial dictate ― judges latching on to a novel form of living literalism to rewrite ordinary meaning and remake American law.”
- His dissent concluded with an acknowledgement of the important victory won by LGBTQ activists through this decision:
“They have exhibited extraordinary vision, tenacity, and grit ― battling often steep odds in the legislative and judicial arenas, not to mention their daily lives. They have advanced powerful policy arguments and can take pride in today’s result. Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, however, I believe that it was Congress’s role, not this Court’s, to amend Title VII. I therefore must respectfully dissent from the Court’s judgment.”
— Eric Revell
(Photo Credit: iStock.com / YinYang)
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