One June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a landmark decision for civil right protections for those in the LGBTQ community. The case, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, expanded the interpretation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to define the term “sex” to include sexuality. Therefore, making it illegal for individuals, specifically employers, to discriminate against individuals on the basis of being homosexual or transgender. Prior to this noteworthy decision, over half of the states in America allowed for termination of employees due to their sexual orientation.
The facts of this case began back in 2003, when Gerald Bostock, a gay man, began his employment for Clayton County Georgia’s Child Welfare Services. Bostock was employed with the county for over 10 years and received many positive performance evaluations and accolades. Until the year of 2013, when Bostock began to participate in a gay recreational softball league. Bostock began to receive comments about his participation in the league and criticism for his sexual orientation, some of these comments occurred in the present of Bostock’s supervisors. Shortly after, the county terminated Bostock for “conduct unbecoming of its employees.”
Bostock filed a discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and then in 2016 a lawsuit against Clayton County for discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The District Court dismissed the claim, finding sexual orientation not to be covered under this Act. Bostock appealed to the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit who affirmed the district court’s decision.
Finally, Bostock’s appeal made it before the Supreme Court of the United States in 2018, begging the overall question of, does the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibiting against employment discrimination based upon sex include an individual’s sexual orientation? The majority opinion of the Supreme Court held that, yes this Act and the term sex encompasses an individual’s sexual orientation and therefore, an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee based upon their sexual orientation. Some important quotations from the majority include: “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” and "It is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating ... based on sex," Justice Neil M. Gorsuch. Meanwhile, the dissent chose to stick to the Act as written and refused to expand the definition of sex, attributing the choice of the majority only to “better reflect the current values of society,” instead of focusing on the law.
This was an unexpected victory for the LGBTQ community, as the conservative leaning court tends to refrain from expanding upon the statutory wording. However, this ruling does provide equality in the workplace that will only begin to expand further. Even though rules in Family law have been struck down regarding the sexual orientation of parents, there are still methods that an individual’s sexual orientation may be questioned that have no bearing on the matter of child rearing. It is important to take these landmark decisions and seek out ways to continue to expand upon them into our own practices of law.
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