June 16, 2020

SCOTUS Delivers Landmark Decision Prompting Change of Employers' Policies

On June 15, 2020, in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Gerald Bostock, Donald Zarda, and Aimee Stephen, who were all long-time employees fired by their employers after learning of their sexual orientation and transgender status.  Before the Supreme Court rendered its opinion, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act declared it “unlawful for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual… because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”  Over the years, there have been numerous cases and controversies over whether Title VII’s anti-discrimination provisions against an individual’s “sex” also encompassed their sexual orientation or transgender status.

When addressing this issue, courts have routinely interpreted Title VII as Congress had when the Act was passed in 1964.  This meant reading the Act on its face, in plain language, without expansion outside of what Congress apparently intended.  Consequently, courts were frequently reluctant to include sexual orientation and transgender status under the definition of “sex” and as a result, those who were gay or transgender were not afforded the same protections under Title VII as those who were not.  In this 6-3 Decision, the Supreme Court established the rights of gay and transgender individuals who were previously deprived of such privileges, and afforded them the protection under sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity status.

This Decision removes the uncertainty about whether it is legal to terminate employees merely due to their sexual orientation and/or transgender status.  In response to this landmark opinion, employers must update their Employee Handbooks relative to EEO Statements and Anti-Harassment policies to reflect the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity.

If you have any questions or are in need of assistance in updating your Employee Handbook, please contact one of the attorneys in our Employment Law Group at 1-888-488-2638.

What It Means to You

"An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII."