On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, holding that an employer who fires an individual based on the individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity violates the express terms of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), which makes it unlawful for an employer to “fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s…sex.” In holding that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination applies to sexual orientation and gender identity, Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, explains: “An employer who fires an individual for being [gay] or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
In Bostock, the Court considered three cases in which an employer fired a long-time employee shortly after the employee revealed his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. Gerald Bostock was employed with Clayton County, Georgia as a child welfare advocate for nearly a decade. Despite Mr. Bostock’s role in leading Clayton County to national awards for its child advocacy work, the county fired Mr. Bostock for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee after he began participating in a gay softball league. Donald Zarda worked for several seasons as a skydiving instructor at his company but was fired by his employer within days after mentioning that he was gay. Aimee Stephens, who originally presented to her employer as male, wrote a letter to her employer in her sixth year of employment explaining that upon her return to work from a scheduled vacation she intended to “live and work full-time as a woman.” Her employer fired her before she left for vacation, telling her “this is not going to work out.”
The Court’s decision in Bostock expands workplace discrimination protections to LGBTQ employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Employers that have not already done so should update their policies accordingly.