Today, the US Supreme Court heard three cases that will clarify the scope of federal civil rights laws – and whether workers can be fired because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The three cases – brought by a woman who was fired from a funeral home because she is transgender and a skydiver and a social worker who were fired because they are gay – pose the question of whether discrimination against LGBT people is a form of sex discrimination.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, among other grounds.
Advocates point out that transgender people are singled out for discrimination precisely because their identity or expression differs from their sex assigned at birth. They argue that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people face discrimination that they would not face if the single fact of their sex was changed and their attractions or relationships were heterosexual.
Multiple courts have agreed with their position. The appeals courts that cover Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, New York, Vermont, and Wisconsin recently ruled that Title VII protects lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers. An even larger set of federal appeals courts have ruled that discrimination based on gender identity is a form of sex discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which enforces Title VII, has echoed these conclusions.
The Trump administration has taken a different tack. Over the summer, the Department of Justice filed briefs urging the Supreme Court to rule that Title VII does not protect LGBT workers. The briefs are the latest in a series of moves to weaken protections for LGBT people in education, housing, health care, adoption and foster care, and businesses and services.
As the Trump administration takes aim at LGBT workers, Congress has the power to act. The House of Representatives recently passed the Equality Act, which would explicitly clarify that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under federal civil rights laws. The Senate should bring the bill to a vote – and should ensure that nobody is fired because of who they are or who they love.