10 Jun Supreme Court to Decide If Federal Discrimination Laws Protect LGBTQ Employees
In June, the US Supreme Court will hand down an employment law decision that will have a significant impact in the workplace, as its outcome will determine whether federal law makes it illegal to fire someone for being LGBTQ. Specifically, in the employment law/discrimination cases before the court, plaintiffs are arguing that they were fired either due to their sexual orientation or gender identity, and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination against LGBTQ individuals because it prohibits employment discrimination due to an employee’s “sex.”
One of the cases originated here in New York, and was filed by Donald Zarda, who alleged that he was fired by his employer, a skydiving company, for being gay, while his employer insists that he was fired for making a customer feel uncomfortable. While the lower court ruled against Zarda, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Manhattan overturned the ruling, and the employer appealed the case to the Supreme Court.
Federal Versus State Anti-Discrimination Employment Protections
Some states, such as California and New York, have their own laws providing protections to LGBTQ individuals in the workplace. For example, New York State has a law barring discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived gender identity and sexual orientation; known as the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act, or “SONDA,” as does California (the California Fair Employment and Housing Act), although it only applies to businesses with five or more employees, as is often the case when it comes to state laws.
However, more than half of the other states in the country do not have state laws like these. Federal law tends to establish a kind of ‘base’ when it comes to prohibiting certain types of discrimination in the workplace, while the states add onto that base; meaning that having the US Supreme Court declare that Title VII also covers sexual orientation and gender identity would not only prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ individuals everywhere in the country, but also add significant weight onto the prohibitions in place in New York and California.
Both Sides of the Argument and Predictions on Outcome
As held by a federal appeals court in one of the cases, it is impossible to fire an employee for being transgender without being motivated, at least in part, by that employee’s sex. However, plaintiffs are up against the opposing argument that Congress did not intend to ban LGBTQ discrimination when it passed the law in 1964. Still, some experts believe that the outcome of the case could all come down to the opinion of Justice Neil Gorsuch, specifically, due to the current makeup of the court. Gorsuch is known for believing that statutes should be followed based on their specific text versus drafters’ intentions. Conversely, other sources have reported that Gorsuch has also made statements regarding concerns over “massive social upheaval” resulting if the court “rules in favor of gay and transgender employees.”
Contact Our California and New York Employment Law and Discrimination Attorneys if You Have Any Questions or Concerns
At Blum Law Firm, our California and New York attorneys assist individuals who have been the victims of discrimination. We believe in fighting aggressively for our clients’ rights. To learn more about our services, contact our office today.