SCOTUS Hears Landmark LGBTQ+ Employment Discrimination Cases

Last Tuesday, the Supreme Court of the United States heard three landmark cases regarding protection against discrimination in the workplace for gay and trans people. Two of the cases were for gay men who were fired for being gay, and the other was for a transgender woman who was fired for wanting to transition and live her life as the woman she is. The cases were filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act 1964, an act that is meant to uphold equality for all. The nine Supreme Court judges heard oral arguments from counsel on Tuesday and asked preliminary questions around the issues that provide some indication as to their thoughts on the matter. If decided in favour of the employees, then this would introduce long-awaited protections for the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace in America, where fewer than 30 states have protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The court seems to be divided among partisan lines, reported Reuters on Tuesday. The key question is whether this kind of discrimination can come under Title VII, namely protection against discrimination “on the basis of sex.” Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch noted the way that discrimination against gay and trans people could come under this definition, but was worried about the “massive social upheaval” that a court decision like this would cause, according to The New York Times.

Public reception of the comments has varied. Famous trans activist Laverne Cox expressed tentative hopefulness towards the discussion of the cases in court, noting this moment of “unprecedented transgender visibility” in finally getting a case like this to the Supreme Court, according to the New Yorker. However, other commentators, such as Katelyn Burns at Vox, noted the futility of the judges focusing more on which bathroom a transgender person would use rather than the actual discrimination in the workplace that occurred. Counsel already had a short time to present their arguments, and this meant that the main issue was not as discussed as it should have been.

Pro-LGBTQ+ protestors picketed outside the Supreme Court as the trial went on, with many holding signs noting the colossal effect that any outcome of these cases would have on the livelihood of those in the LGBTQ+ community. According to CBS News, an estimated 8.1 million LGBTQ+ employees could be impacted by the Supreme Court’s ruling. That is what many in the justice system seem to be forgetting – millions of people’s jobs at risk, simply because of the bigoted attitudes of their employers. Definitional concerns and the role of the court in social upheaval are indeed important issues for the judges to consider, however, the spirit of the Civil Rights Act 1964 is about equality, regardless of who you are. For a peaceful, democratic society, that should count for something.