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Law & the Courts

Supreme Court to Consider LGBT Job-Discrimination Cases

The U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., June 11, 2018 (Erin Schaff/Reuters)

In a watershed moment for LGBT-rights advocates, the Supreme Court has agreed to take up three cases involving LGBT individuals who claim they were fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The court will decide whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which bans discrimination by employers based on “sex,” also prohibits discrimination based on the sexual orientation and gender identity of workers. The cases are the first to test the bent of the new, conservative-leaning Court on LGBT issues.

Many state and local laws already prohibit dismissals based on sexual orientation and gender identity, but about half of American workers are not covered by such legal protections, according to Movement Advancement Project, an LGBT right group.

“The growing legal consensus is that our nation’s civil rights laws do protect LGBTQ people against discrimination under sex nondiscrimination laws,” said Sarah Warbelow, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, the country’s most prominent LGBT-advocacy organization. “The Supreme Court has an opportunity to clarify this area of law to ensure protections for LGBTQ people in many important areas of life.”

The Trump administration has previously argued before the Court that the protections of Title VII do not extend to sexual orientation or gender identity.

“There’s definitely a lot at stake here,” James Esseks, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who served as counsel for the plaintiffs in the landmark 2015 same-sex-marriage case Obergefell v. Hodgessaid last summer. “Are LGBT people protected from discrimination in a way that most other people in the country are, or are we not?”

Two of the cases the court will deliberate involve employees who say they were fired for being gay.

In Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, skydiving instructor Donald Zarda sued his employer for firing him because of his sexual orientation. Zarda died in an October 2014 base-jumping accident, but his family continued to pursue the case on his behalf.

In Bostock v. Clayton County a child-welfare-services coordinator sued a Georgia county, saying he was fired in 2013 after the county discovered his connection to an LGBT softball league.

In the final case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC and Aimee Stephens, Stephens claimed to have been fired from a funeral-home job after beginning to transition.

The Supreme Court expects to rule on both cases by June 2020.

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