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Understanding the Supreme Court Ruling on LGBT Workplace Discrimination
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Understanding the Supreme Court Ruling on LGBT Workplace Discrimination

Understanding the Supreme Court Ruling on LGBT Workplace Discrimination

A recent Supreme Court judgement is being celebrated as a landmark moment in the fight for workplace protections for LGBT workers. This has confirmed in federal law what was already established in many states: that all employers should avoid LGBT discrimination in the workplace.

Let’s break down the next steps for employers.

What The Ruling Means for Businesses

The ruling means that is officially illegal for employers to fire, refuse to hire or discriminate regarding pay and conditions of employment based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Those who breach the law could face costly penalties, though it’s important to note that the relevant legislation only applies to companies with 15 or more employees.

In reality, employers should not have to change how they operate. Not only did many cities and states already have legislation protecting LGBT people from discrimination, but the law in question—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act—was already being interpreted by the body who enforces it—the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)—as extending to sexual orientation and gender identity.

However, the full implications of the ruling may not be known until there are further court rulings later down the line. Employers should be alert for updates on addition consequences of the decision.

How to Avoid Discrimination of LGBT in the Workplace

All employers should ensure they understand what counts as discrimination and take care to educate all employers on these issues. If they haven’t already, companies should adapt their employment policies to explicitly forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

But that’s not all. Businesses should also review all workplace procedures to identify any areas where LGBT employees could be at risk of discrimination. This includes hiring and firing but extends to benefits plans, leave policies and insurance offerings. The more rigorous your review the more certain you can be not only that you are compliant but that you are offering an inclusive working environment for all LGBT employees.

The Supreme Court Ruling

Now, let’s break down exactly what was decided in more detail.

On Monday June 13, the Supreme Court ruled that civil rights laws protect against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The consequence for employers is that it is now illegal under federal law to fire an employee because they are gay or transgender. While some jurisdictions already legislated against this, more than half of states had no such protections.

The relevant legislation—Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—protects against discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin”. The key term in this decision is “sex”—as author of the decision Justice Gorsuch wrote, “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

Until this definitive judgement, it had been unclear whether the term “sex” extended to cover all cases concerning discrimination of LGBT in the workplace.

The Judgement Explained

Justice Gorsuch explained the ruling using the following examples:

“Consider, for example, an employer with two employees, both of whom are attracted to men. The two individuals are, to the employer’s mind, materially identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other a woman.

If the employer fires the male employee for no reason other than the fact he is attracted to men, the employer discriminates against him for traits or actions it tolerates in his female colleague.


Or take an employer who fires a transgender person who was identified as a male at birth but who now identifies as a female. If the employer retains an otherwise identical employee who was identified as female at birth, the employer intentionally penalizes a person identified as male at birth for traits or actions that it tolerates in an employee identified as female at birth.”

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