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Supreme Court To Decide If Workplace Discrimination Law Covers Gay, Trans People

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The Supreme Court announced Monday that it will decide whether a federal law banning discrimination in the workplace covers LGBT employees.

The justices granted review of three petitions arising from Georgia, New York, and Michigan. The first two cases pertain to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Michigan appeal concerns bias against transgender workers in employment practices.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans employment discrimination based on sex. Since 2017, two federal appeals courts have found that Title VII’s ban on sex-based discrimination also covers gays and lesbians. Those panels concluded that anti-gay bias is a form of sex-stereotyping in which employers punish workers for failing to adhere to gender norms.

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The New York dispute involved a gay skydiving instructor called Donald Zarda who was terminated from Altitude Express Inc. after disclosing his sexual orientation to a client. The client claims that Zarda inappropriately touched her, and that Zarda promptly shared his orientation to assuage her concerns. In turn, Zarda sued the company, arguing his dismissal was motivated by animus in violation of Title VII.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for Zarda, who has since died in a BASE jumping incident.

“Sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination because sexual orientation is defined by one’s sex in relation to the sex of those to whom one is attracted, making it impossible for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without taking sex into account,” the decision reads.

In contrast, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Gerald Bostock, a public employee who claims he was terminated after joining a gay softball league. A three-judge panel dismissed Bostock’s case, and the full 11th Circuit declined to review the matter, over a vigorous dissent from Judge Robin Rosenbaum.

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The Michigan dispute involves a Christian funeral home director called Thomas Rost who fired a transgender employee, Aimee Stephens. Rost dismissed Stephens for failing to abide by the company dress code, which requires male employees to wear suits. Stephens identifies as a woman.

The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Rost’s enforcement of the dress code reflects “stereotypical notions of how biologically male persons should dress, appear, behave, and identify.”

The cases — Bostock v. Clayton County; Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda; and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC — will be heard during the Court’s next term, which begins in October.

This is breaking news. This post will be updated. 

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