A US Supreme Court ruling protecting gay and trans people from discrimination at work was hailed by LGBT+ groups on Monday as the nation’s most significant moment in the fight for equal rights since same-sex marriage was legalised five years ago.
In a 6-3 decision, the nation’s top court decided gay and transgender people are protected under Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion.
“No trans people and no lesbian or gay people can ever be fired or discriminated against for being gay or transgender – that’s the immutable law of the land now,” said Vandy Beth Glenn, who was fired in 2007 when she came out as a trans woman.
“This is a win for all Americans,” Glenn told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, adding she was in tears upon hearing of the court’s ruling.
More than half of LGBT+ Americans live in states without explicit workplace protections, according to US think tank Movement Advancement Project, meaning they could be fired or harassed for being gay or trans with little legal recourse.
“There are truly no words to describe just how elated I am,” said Gerald Bostock, a Georgia man who lost his job as a child welfare services coordinator after joining a gay softball team.
“When I was fired seven years ago, I was devastated,” he said in a statement.
“Today, we can go to work without the fear of being fired for who we are and who we love.”
Bostock’s case was one of three addressed in the court decision.
In the ruling, Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote:
“In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee.
“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.”
A conservative Christian group, the Alliance Defending Freedom, called the ruling “disappointing.”
“Redefining ‘sex’ to mean ‘gender identity’ will create chaos and enormous unfairness for women and girls in athletics, women’s shelters, and many other contexts,” said John Bursch, an attorney at the group.
“Civil rights laws that use the word ‘sex’ were put in place to protect equal opportunities for women.
“Allowing a court or government bureaucrats to redefine a term with such a clear and important meaning undermines those very opportunities — the ones the law was designed to protect.”
The Alliance is waging a legal battle against a policy in the US state of Connecticut that allows transgender girls to compete on girls’ sports teams.
Tony Perkins, head of another conservative religious group, the Family Research Council, said letting judges “rewrite the Civil Rights Act to add gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes poses a grave threat to religious liberty.”
The court’s ruling comes days after the administration of President Donald Trump announced a rollback of guidance implemented under President Barack Obama to protect trans people from discrimination in healthcare.
“The Supreme Court’s simple yet profound recognition that sex discrimination law protects LGBT employees is another important marker on the long path toward greater equality and justice for all,” said Suzanne Goldberg of Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic, in emailed comments.
Nicolas Talbott, a transgender man challenging a US ban on trans people serving in the military, welcomed the ruling.
“I know what it’s like to be told I can’t do a job I’m qualified for just because I’m transgender,” he said in a statement.
“Especially now when so many have lost jobs and are struggling, the last thing we should be doing is erecting barriers that keep people who want to work and contribute from doing so.”
– Oscar Lopez @oscarlopezgib – Thomson Reuters Foundation