U.S. Supreme Court Rules Civil Rights Act Protects LGBTQ Workers

June 15, 2020

Cleary Gottlieb joins the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) in lauding the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that transgender people cannot be fired for who they are.

In a 6-to-3 ruling on June 15, 2020, the justices affirmed that federal law protects transgender and non-binary as well as lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, rejecting the federal administration’s attempts to roll back employment protections.

The ruling comes in three cases involving: the late Aimee Stephens who was fired from her job at a Michigan funeral home for being transgender (R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and two people who were fired on the basis of their sexual orientation, a skydiving instructor in New York and a child welfare coordinator in Georgia (Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia).

The opinion was written by Justice Neil Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, and Justice Elena Kagan. It states, “no ambiguity exists about how Title VII’s terms apply to the facts before us.” “By discriminating against transgender persons, the employer unavoidably discriminates against persons with one sex identified at birth and another today.” Rejecting the defendants’ main argument that transgender people were not thought to be protected in 1964 when Title VII was written, the opinion concludes, “[b]ut to refuse enforcement just . . . because the parties before us happened to be unpopular at the time of the law’s passage, . . . would tilt the scales of justice in favor of the strong or popular and neglect the promise that all persons are entitled to the benefit of the law’s terms.”

Together with TLDEF, Cleary had filed a “friend of the court” brief in July 2019 in support of Aimee Stephens in her case before the Supreme Court. The brief was supported by 33 other signatories representing local and state-based organizations from every region of the U.S. who directly serve transgender people, particularly those most vulnerable to discrimination.

The brief advanced three main arguments:

  • Ms. Stephens’ abrupt firing from her job was a straightforward case of sex discrimination under Title VII;
  • There is both medical and legal consensus that “sex” is comprised of myriad factors, including gender identity; and
  • The Supreme Court case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins established the legal precedent of sex stereotyping that also applies to Ms. Stephens’ wrongful termination.

To read the TLDEF press release on the Supreme Court’s ruling, click here. To view the amicus brief in support of Ms. Stephens, click here.