Supreme Court Rules Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Covered Under Federal Discrimination Law

Supreme Court building

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that employers cannot fire workers because of their sexual orientation and gender identity in a 6-3 decision. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote the opinion for the majority and was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor. The decision was a result of three separate cases that involved alleged discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identiy.

Two of the cases, Bostock v. Clayton County and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, involved cases where an employee claimed they were fired because of their sexual orientation. The third, Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC, involved a man who was fired from a Michigan funeral home after he underwent a gender transition and began to dress as a woman at work. 

The Court was asked to decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act which, in part, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, also applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the majority opinion, "An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII". While the Court agreed that homosexuality and transgender status are distinct concepts from sex, it stated that "discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second." Justice Gorsuch specified, however, that the Court was not ruling at this time on how religious liberty protections under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act would be viewed with Title VII. 

Justice Samuel Alito wrote one dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, while Justice Brett Kavanaugh wrote a separate dissent. Both dissents stated that it was for Congress to amend Title VII, not the Court. "There is only one word for what the Court has done today: legislation," Alito wrote. 

Archbishop Jose Gomez, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) responded to the Court's decision, stating that he was "deeply concerned that the U.S. Supreme Court has effectively redefined the legal meaning of 'sex' in our nation's civil rights law." The full statement from Archbishop Gomez can be found on the USCCB website. The MCC expects this ruling to lead to future litigation that could impact the Catholic Church and its ministries.

June 23, 2020 - 7:13am

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