Landmark Supreme Court decision protects LGBT+ workers

New federal Civil Rights law prohibits US employers for discriminating against workers on the basis of sexual orientation.

A 10-year Supreme Court legal battle has ended this week in a win for the LGBT+ community. The highest court of the federal judiciary in the United States ruled on Monday in Bostock v Clayton County that gay and transgender workers are protected from discrimination in the workplace by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The 6-3 ruling has declared that the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which forbids employers from discriminating against employees ‘on the basis of sex as well as gender, race, colour, national origin, and religion’, includes protection for transgender and gay persons in its definition.

U.S. Supreme Court Rules Civil Rights Law Protects LGBTQ Workers ...

The political arm of law-creating, the House of Representatives and the Senate, have previously passed separate bills that ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but none had yet become law. Many were surprised, therefore, to see the official legislative hammer come down from a Supreme Court that, thanks to Trump’s two appointments, is heavily conservative leaning.

Bostock v Clayton County arose from a trio of cases in the US courts over the last decade where gay and trans workers said they had been fired due to characteristics related to sex. At the Supreme Court level, the case turned into an intensely textual debate arguing whether one’s gender identity is necessarily included in the term ‘sex’.

The Court’s majority decision was reported by Justice Neil Gorsuch, who argued that discrimination against gay and transgender people necessarily included judgments about their sex.

Gorsuch noted that an employer who fired a male worker because he was attracted to men ‘discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleagues’. Further, he wrote that if an employer fires a person who identified as male at birth but who subsequently identified as female, the employer penalises ‘traits or actions that it tolerates in an employee identified as female at birth’.

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The ruling is being heralded as a massive win for the LGBT+ community and its allies, particularly in light of the Trump administration’s recent efforts to roll back protections for trans workers under healthcare plans that had been implemented under Obama’s presidency.

Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee in the upcoming US federal election, stated that the new law was a ‘momentous step forward for our country.’ Amit Paley, executive director of LGBTQ suicide prevention charity The Trevor Project, said the announcement ‘sent a resounding message to LGBTQ youth everywhere that they are free to pursue their talents and dreams’.

It’s certainly surprising to see two justices’ seemingly ‘cross party lines’ on this ruling. Trump’s appointment of two conservative figureheads during his term, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch, justifiably worried progressive and LGBT+ rights activists that any left-wing progress the Supreme Court was making would be hamstrung. However, whilst Kavanaugh opposed Monday’s ruling, Gorsuch supported the decision along with fellow Republican nominee Chief Justice John Roberts.

As the author of the majority opinion in case, Gorsuch appears to wish to reinforce the standing of the Supreme Court as a completely independent body beholden only to the word of the law, and the status of Justice’s as politically non-biased.

The three Supreme Court Justices who opposed the decision, however, argued that Monday’s ruling is in fact the direct opposite of objectivity. ‘There is only one word for what the court has done today: legislation,’ wrote Justice Samuel Alito in a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. ‘A more brazen abuse of our authority to interpret statutes is hard to recall,’ he added.

Though, when the actual legislative bodies drag their feet protecting fundamental human rights, can we really blame law-regulators for stepping in?

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