NAICU Washington Update

Supreme Court Rules Employment Discrimination Law Protects LGBT Individuals

June 18, 2020

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act – which prohibits, among other things, employment discrimination on the basis of sex – protects lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals against bias in the workplace, according to a ruling this week from the Supreme Court. 

Although the ruling focused only on claims of employment discrimination, the effect of the Court’s decision in Bostock v. Clayton County is likely to be far broader in scope due to the impact the case will have on how courts interpret other laws that prohibit sex discrimination, including Title IX. As a result, the Court’s ruling is likely to affect institutions of higher education in areas that go beyond their employment practices. 

Writing the majority opinion for the Court’s 6-3 decision, Justice Neil Gorsuch relied on the express language of the statutory text to conclude that Title IX prohibits discrimination against LGBT workers. According to Justice Gorsuch: “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

As noted above, the Court’s ruling carries broad implications for other federal, state, and local laws that prohibit sex discrimination. At the federal level, for example, courts generally interpret Title IX’s prohibition against sex discrimination in a manner that is consistent with Title VII. Although Justice Gorsuch was careful to note that the Bostock ruling does not address other federal laws that prohibit sex discrimination or other contexts beyond employment – such as application to religious organizations or to share facilities such as locker rooms or restrooms – the case is certain to spur litigation over these issues. In anticipation of such eventualities, institutions of higher education should be aware of potential legal challenges in areas such as transgender students’ participation in athletics and access to shared facilities, including residence halls.

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