US Supreme Court bars discrimination against LGBT workers

The U.S. Supreme Court has delivered a watershed victory for LGBTIQ rights and a defeat for President Donald Trump’s administration by ruling that a longstanding federal law barring workplace discrimination protects gay and transgender employees.

The landmark 6-3 ruling represented the biggest moment for LGBTIQ rights in the United States since the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015. Two conservative justices joined the court’s four liberals in the decision: Neil Gorsuch, a 2017 Trump appointee who wrote the ruling, and Chief Justice John Roberts. 

The justices decided that gay and transgender people are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as race, color, national origin and religion.

Workplace bias against gay and transgender employees had remained legal in much of the country, with 28 U.S. states lacking comprehensive measures against employment discrimination. The ruling - in two gay rights cases from Georgia and New York and a transgender rights case from Michigan - recognizes new worker protections in federal law. 

The legal fight focused on the definition of “sex” in Title VII. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that discriminating against gay and transgender workers was inherently based on their sex and consequently was illegal. 

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump called the ruling very powerful and said, “They’ve ruled and we live with their decision.” Supported by evangelical Christian voters, Trump has taken actions that have undermined gay and trans rights since taking office in 2017.

LGBT activists and the only surviving plaintiff in the litigation lauded the ruling. 

“I truly believe I went into shock this morning,” said Gerald Bostock, who brought the Georgia case after losing his job as a county government child welfare services coordinator months after joining the local gay-friendly Hotlanta Softball League. 

“I’m proud to have taken part in this process in getting us to this historic moment,” Bostock added. 

The ruling does not resolve other legal issues on LGBTIQ rights including whether separate federal laws that bar sex discrimination should also be interpreted as covering sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Americans must be able to rely on what the law says, and it is disappointing that a majority of the justices were unwilling to affirm that commonsense principle,” said John Bursch, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group that represented the employer in the Michigan case. 

Trump’s administration joined the employers in arguing that Congress did not intend for Title VII to protect gay and trans people when it passed the law. Gorsuch conceded that point but said what mattered was the law’s text.

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