Workers can’t be fired for LGBT status, U.S. Supreme Court says

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A divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal law protects gay and transgender workers from job discrimination in a decision that gives millions of LGBT people new civil rights.

Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals in a 6-3 majority, interpreting the longstanding federal ban on sex discrimination in the workplace to cover bias on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The decision could have a broad practical impact. More than half the U.S. states don’t cover sexual orientation and gender identity through their own anti-discrimination laws. More than half the nation’s 8 million LGBT workers live in those states, according to the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law’s Williams Institute.

The victory for LGBT rights comes even after the Supreme Court shifted to the right with two appointments by President Donald Trump.

The cases that were before the court tackled a central irony in the fight over LGBT rights. Even though the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, LGBT people still could have been fired from their jobs in much of the country.

Writing for the court, Gorsuch said the lawmakers who drafted the 1964 Civil Rights Act “might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result.” But he said the language of the law, which bars discrimination on the basis of “sex” but doesn’t explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity, was clear.

“The limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands,” he wrote. “Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.”

The justices were considering three lawsuits. The two gay-rights cases involved a Georgia county accused of firing a man because he is gay and a now-defunct New York skydiving company that allegedly fired an instructor because of his sexual orientation.

The transgender-rights case concerned a Michigan funeral-home chain that fired Aimee Stephens as she was preparing to start living openly as a woman. Stephens died May 12, as the Supreme Court was deliberating over her case.

Bloomberg News
Sexual orientation discrimination Diversity and equality