Historic: Supreme Court Rules Firing Employees For Being LGBTQ Is Illegal

The current U.S. Supreme Court (image: public domain)

In a major victory for LGBTQ rights, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a historic decision Monday morning ruling that current federal law prohibits discrimination against workers for being LGBTQ, finally putting into place long-sought federal protections for LGBTQ people in the workplace.

The ruling, a 6-3 decision, finds that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, which is banned under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to ScotusBlog.

The ruling comes only three days after the Trump Administration chose to roll back healthcare protections for LGBTQ individuals during Pride Month and on the anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida where 49 individuals were murdered in a gay nightclub.

Donald Trump’s administration had filed a brief with the Supreme Court urging the justices to rule that it’s legal to fire workers because of their sexual orientation.

The court heard oral arguments for 3 consolidated cases last October. Two cases involved gay men who were fired from their jobs — Zarda v. Altitude Express and Bostock v. Clayton County – and a third involving a transgender woman who lost her job, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. 

U.S. Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, one of the most conservative members of the high court, wrote for the majority, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

From the ruling:

A statutory violation occurs if an employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee. Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII. There is no escaping the role intent plays: Just as sex is necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminates against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminates on these grounds inescapably intends to rely on sex in its decisionmaking.

The five other justices agreeing in concert with Gorsuch are U.S Chief Justice John Roberts, U.S. Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Associate Justice Elena Kagan, U.S. Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor and U.S. Associate Justice Stephen Breyer.

Traditionally conservative-leaning U.S. Associate Justices Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas, and Brett Kavanaugh issued a dissenting decision.


This is the most extraordinary court victory for LGB Americans since the 2015 Obergefell ruling which made marriage equality the law of the land. And this is the biggest legal decision for transgender Americans in the history of the nation.

LGBTQ advocacy groups chimed in on the good news. From GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis:

“The Supreme Court’s historic decision affirms what shouldn’t have even been a debate: LGBTQ Americans should be able to work without fear of losing jobs because of who they are. The decision gives us hope that as a country we can unite for the common good and continue the fight for LGBTQ acceptance,” said GLAAD President & CEO Sarah Kate Ellis. “Especially at a time when the Trump Administration is rolling back the rights of transgender people and anti-transgender violence continues to plague our nation, this decision is a step towards affirming the dignity of transgender people and all LGBTQ people.”

Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project, the world’s largest suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people:

“This landmark decision will save lives. At The Trevor Project, we hear from LGBTQ youth every day who suffer from discrimination and harassment, and our research demonstrates that those who experienced LGBTQ-based workplace discrimination were twice as likely to have attempted suicide in the past year compared to those who did not. By recognizing that LGBTQ workers cannot be discriminated against because of who they are, the Supreme Court has sent a resounding message to LGBTQ youth everywhere that they are free to pursue their talents and dreams.”

Executive Director of OutRight Action International, Jessica Stern, comments:

“The Supreme Court stating explicitly that under the Civil Rights Act discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is a tremendous victory. The decision comes at a time when the Trump administration has been viciously attacking the rights of LGBTIQ people, in particular trans people. It will protect millions of Americans from discrimination in the workplace, and sends a powerful message – that political power-play can not erase basic human rights. This judgment will have implications for LGBTIQ people everywhere – governments and movements are inspired by each other, and landmark judgments are quoted by courts across the world. OutRight welcomes, and celebrates this ruling!”

Tarah Demant, Director of the Gender, Sexuality, and Identity Program at Amnesty International USA, released the following statement:

“The Supreme Court now has upheld the most basic value of equality, a human right that every one of us deserves. We celebrate the court decision that recognizes that non-discrimination in the workplace applies to everyone, no matter their sex, sexuality, or gender identity—and we celebrate with LGBTQI people who have long waited for equal recognition under the law.”

From the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon:

“For the first time, this historic decision ensures that LGBTQ people have nationwide employment protection and represents a monumental step that will help to create a safer working environment for everyone. During a global health crisis and a growing nationwide movement to focus on supporting and protecting Black Lives – particularly Black transgender lives – against systematic racism and violence, this historic ruling is both uplifting and encouraging. However, we know that our work is far from complete, and the fight for full LGBTQ equality continues.”

From Shannon Minter, Legal Director of NCLR:

“This is a huge victory not just for LGBTQ people, but for our country, which benefits enormously when LGBTQ people are permitted to participate and contribute on equal terms. Today’s decision will be remembered as a watershed in the history of LGBTQ rights, even as our country continues to grapple with the brutal legacy of racism. The transgender movement owes a particular debt of gratitude to Aimee Stephens, who courageously fought this battle in the months of her life.”

Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David:

“This is a landmark victory for LGBTQ equality. No one should be denied a job or fired simply because of who they are or whom they love. For the past two decades, federal courts have determined that discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ status is unlawful discrimination under federal law. Today’s historic ruling by the Supreme Court affirms that view, but there is still work left to be done. In many aspects of the public square, LGBTQ people still lack non-discrimination protections, which is why it is crucial that Congress pass the Equality Act to address the significant gaps in federal civil rights laws and improve protections for everyone.”

Rea Carey, Executive Director for National LGBTQ Task Force:

“At this most challenging time for our community, the country and the world, it is heartening to see the Court decision bolstering fairness and equality in this country by affirming that LGBTQ+ people are protected from employment discrimination under federal law. Every person celebrating this ruling has decades of work by Black and Brown trans members of our community, in particular, to thank for the ability to work free from discrimination. And while this is a watershed moment for fairness and equality our struggle for LGBTQ liberation, we still have work to do. We must close critical gaps in nondiscrimination protections. For example, it is still legal to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people in federally funded programs, including hospitals, colleges, and adoption agencies as well as discriminate against LGBTQ+, women and others in public accommodations including hotels and restaurants. It is critical that Congress join with the Supreme Court and the overwhelming majority of Americans to pass full federal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ people.