Legal Insider: Supreme Court to Decide Whether Sex Discrimination Laws Cover LGBT Employees

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

On October 8, 2019, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments as to whether or not Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 involving sex discrimination applies to LGBT employees.

The U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal are currently split on the issue. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will focus on the text of the law, not politics, and do the right thing here. In my opinion, the Civil Rights Act clearly protects LGBT employees from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender status. The civil rights law was written broadly and anticipates other forms of sex discrimination.

The Three Cases

The Supreme Court heard three combined cases on the issue during oral argument. They involve 3 employees, two gay males and one transgender female. The two men were fired due to their sexual orientation and the transgender woman was fired from her employment because of her gender identity. A link to the synopsis on Scotusblog can be found here.

Common Sense Should Prevail

As with so many other issues in the law, common sense has been distorted through the various legal arguments. Most individuals know that “sex” discrimination is discrimination based on some aspect of sex. Those opposing the inclusion of LGBT employees from sexual discrimination protections have tried to twist the plain meaning of the statute’s wording by claiming it to be different than it reads.

To some, it could reasonably appear that LGBT employees are attempting to enlarge the definition of a law which was meant to protect women from sex discrimination back in 1964. However, the law was also meant to broadly define sex discrimination, which can happen to anyone, regardless of whether they are straight, LGBTQ or otherwise. Opponents have argued that gender identity, sexual orientation and sex discrimination have multiple different meanings in an effort to confuse the issue.

One of the arguments put forth seems to make the concept clear to me:

The argument before the Court is that sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination under Title VII, because when an employer fires a male employee for dating men, but does not fire a female employee who also dates men, the employer discriminates based on sex. 

History of Sex Discrimination Law is Non-Existent

Furthermore, Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination was a last-minute inclusion in the Civil Rights Act that was intended to scuttle the bill by former Congressman Howard Smith from Virginia. Apparently, Congressman Smith elicited laughter from his colleagues when he proposed this addition at the last minute. He must have been shocked when the sex discrimination law passed Congress.

As a result, the definition was left broad, without any hearings and debate to define it. Many courts and the EEOC have concluded that the law was intended to protect LGBT employees. Hopefully, the Supreme Court will do the right thing here. Nobody should be subject to sex discrimination.

A ruling, either way, is probably likely to be 5-4, either way. The swing justice is likely Justice Neil Gorsuch, who has taken the view that the text was clear in that sex discrimination could include these forms of discrimination. If the 3 employees prevail it will likely be because Justice Gorsuch and/or Kavanaugh rule with them. However, if the Court rules against LGBT employees, it will only be a matter of time before a future Supreme Court overrules them and the justices that supported this type of discrimination will be remembered poorly.

Conclusion

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