SCOTUS Rules Title VII Applies to Homosexual and Transgender Employees
June 15, 2020
By: Mitchell Kunert
Prior to COVID-19 changing American lives by the donning of face masks and the introduction of social distancing, the United States Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases consolidated into Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. At issue was the legality of an employer terminating an employee simply for being homosexual or transgender under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Unlike the Iowa Civil Rights Act, Title VII does not explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
Today, the Court ruled that Title VII extends protection to homosexual and transgender employees. The Court said the language of Title VII, which prohibits discrimination “because of” sex, applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. According to the Court, “[a] statutory violation occurs if an employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee. Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII.” The decision was 6-3 with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Gorsuch, Ginsburg, Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor in the majority and Justices Alito, Kavanaugh and Thomas dissenting.
While this decision may not necessarily impact claims made against employers based in Iowa or other states with civil rights legislation specifically including as protected classifications sexual orientation and/or gender identity, employers should be mindful of this additional avenue into federal court for aggrieved employees or former employees. This interpretation of Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination on the basis of sex as inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity may further impact the interpretation of other federal statutes barring similar discrimination in other contexts, such as in education.
Please contact your Nyemaster Goode attorney if you have a question or are facing a situation potentially impacted by the Bostock decision.