SCOTUS Taking Up Major LGBTQ Rights Cases

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court will take up three cases involving discrimination against people in the LGBTQ community later this year, the justices said Monday, in what will be a major test of whether federal civil rights law banning sex discrimination extends to gender identity and sexual orientation.

The three cases include a funeral home employee who was fired after she came out as transgender and disclosed her transition, a skydiving instructor who was fired after a customer complained that he was gay, and a Clayton County, GA, employee who says he was also fired because he is gay, according to the Associated Press.

The Supreme Court will consider whether Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination, extends to sexual orientation and gender identity. The cases will be heard in the fall, with decisions likely being made by June 2020, the AP reported. The cases are the first to be heard by the court since Brett Kavanaugh, President Donald Trump’s second confirmed Supreme Court nominee, joined the bench, swinging the court to a conservative majority.

Title VII, the law at the center of these cases, prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex or national origin” but doesn’t specifically mention sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite this, the Obama administration regarded discrimination against people who identified as part of the LGBTQ community as sex discrimination covered by the law. However, the Trump administration has reversed that, revoking protections for transgender people against workplace discrimination and changing another Obama-era guidance to protect transgender students.

Last year, in the case of the skydiving instructor, a federal appeals court in New York ruled that “legal doctrine evolves,” and that “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.” The skydiver, Donald Zarda, was fired from his job in 2010, but died in 2014. Following Zarda’s death, his partner William Allen Moore and sister Melissa Zarda continued to pursue his legal case as co-executors of his estate, according to NBC News.

That same month, an appeals court in Cincinnati ruled that the firing of the funeral home worker because of her gender identity constituted sex discrimination.

In the case of the Clayton County employee, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in August dismissed Gerald Bostock’s claim that he was fired in 2013 because he is gay, writing that “discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.” Following the decision, attorneys for the county asked the Supreme Court to refuse to hear Bostock’s case, according to Metro Weekly.

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