The U.S. Supreme Court declared on Monday that an employer who fires a worker merely for being gay or transgender violates the main federal job-discrimination law, in a decision with implications for school districts as employers and in legal battles over the rights of transgender students.
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote the opinion for a 6-3 majority in Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga. (Case No. 17-1618) and two consolidated cases involving workers who alleged they were fired on the basis of being gay or transgender.
“In Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964], Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee,” he wrote. “We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”
Gorsuch was joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.
Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., in a dissent joined by Justice Clarence Thomas, said the majority was trying to “convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous.”
“Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity’,” Alito wrote. “And in any event, our duty is to interpret statutory terms to mean what they conveyed to reasonable people at the time they were written.”
Alito made multiple references to what the decision today might mean for interpreting Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bars discrimination “based on sex” in federally funded educational programs.
In a separate dissent for himself, Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh said it was " appropriate to acknowledge the important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans,” who have “worked hard for many decades to achieve equal treatment in fact and in law.”
“Under the Constitution’s separation of powers, however, I believe that it was Congress’s role, not this Court’s, to amend Title VII,” Kavanaugh said.
A longer version of this story appears here.
A version of this news article first appeared in The School Law Blog.