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Supreme Court to Decide Whether Civil Rights Law Applies to Gay and Transgender People

The U.S. Supreme Court has recently accepted three cases to determine whether the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender people from discrimination by their employers.  Until the Supreme Court issues its rulings, the federal courts of appeal will remain divided on the scope of protection afforded to gay and transgender people under Title VII.  While a majority of the federal appellate courts interpret Title VII to exclude sexual orientation discrimination, New York’s and Chicago’s federal appellate courts recently found that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by Title VII.

The first two cases before the Supreme Court, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, Case No. 17-1623, and Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., Case No. 17-1618, will address whether sexual orientation is a protected class from employment discrimination.  Zarda involves a skydiving instructor who claims he was terminated from his employment for being gay.  The Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation because “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.”

In Bostock, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with Zarda and held that “discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited” by Title VII.  There, the appellate court ruled in favor of the employer where a child welfare services coordinator claimed he was fired for being gay.

The Supreme Court’s third case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), will address whether a transgender person is protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Case No. 18-107, the EEOC brought a claim against a funeral home after it terminated an employee who announced that she was a transgender woman and would begin wearing women’s clothing at work.  The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, reversing the district court’s order granting the funeral home’s motion for summary judgment, held that terminating an employee based on her transgender status constituted sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

The Supreme Court’s decisions in these cases will be pivotal for civil rights in the workplace.  If you feel that you have been terminated for discriminatory reasons, you may have a viable claim for discrimination.  It is essential that you promptly meet with an experienced attorney to discuss your legal options.

Mackaness & Ideta, LLP represents and advises clients in business disputes, investment fraud recovery, and employment claims.  Please contact us today for a free and confidential consultation. 

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