This week, our law firm is at the annual National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA) conference in Chicago. The convention kicked off with remarks from very bold and inspiring plaintiffs in landmark cases. One of the plaintiffs we heard from was Gerald Bostock, who was one of the Plaintiffs (and the named plaintiff) in the milestone United States Supreme Court Case, Bostock v. Clayton County, which was decided on June 15, 2020. This case allowed for one of the basic tenets of employment law. In Bostock, the United States Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, also protects employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Bostock originated from three separate lawsuits filed by Gerald Bostock, Donald Zarda, and Aimee Stephens, who were discriminatorily terminated. Bostock, a gay man, had been fired from his position as a child welfare advocate for his sexual orientation. Zarda, also a gay man, was fired from his job as a skydiving instructor for his sexual orientation. Stephens, a transgender woman, was fired from her position as a funeral director for her gender identity. The cases were eventually consolidated and heard by the Supreme Court under Bostock.
In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination does encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, analyzed the text of the statute and concluded that discrimination against employees because they are gay or transgender is inherently based on sex. The Court reasoned that if an employer fires a male employee for being attracted to men but would not fire a female employee for being attracted to men, then sex is a factor in the decision and therefore constitutes sex discrimination.
The Court rejected arguments that the legislators who drafted the Civil Rights Act in 1964 did not intend to include sexual orientation or transgender status within the scope of the law. Instead, the majority focused on the textual interpretation of the statute itself, noting that the language of Title VII is broad and prohibits discrimination “because of sex,” which encompasses the discrimination faced by Bostock, Zarda, and Stephens.
The decision in Bostock v. Clayton County has significant implications for LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace. It establishes that it is unlawful for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status. This ruling provides protection to LGBTQ+ individuals in the context of hiring, firing, promotion, and other employment-related decisions.
The case has been hailed as a major victory for LGBTQ+ rights advocates, as it extends federal employment discrimination protections to millions of workers across the United States. It also aligns the Court’s interpretation of Title VII with the evolving societal understanding of LGBTQ+ rights. Prior to this decision, several lower courts had reached conflicting conclusions on this issue, leading to legal uncertainty and inconsistency across different jurisdictions. Now, with a Supreme Court decision, it is the law of the land: discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But listening to Mr. Bostock speak reminded us of the people who battled tirelessly on behalf of themselves and countless others for basic rights in the workplace. It also reminded us about all the additional considerations for a plaintiff in an employment case. For example, he reminded us that his former employer terminated him for his sexual orientation when he was recovering from cancer—leaving him without health insurance when he needed it the most. He also reminded us that he is the only plaintiff of that paramount case who is with us today. In giving his remarks, he ensured we all remembered the memories of Donald Zarda, who passed away in 2014 before the case was decided, and Aimee Stephens, who passed away just about a month and a half before the case was decided.
Because of the bravery and commitment of people like Aimee Stephens, Donald Zarda, and Gerald Bostock, queer and trans people have protections in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. If you have have been discriminated against for your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact me in Dallas or one of our other talented Texas employment lawyers in Austin or Houston today.