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NYC Litigation Blog

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Supreme Court to Decide Whether Federal Employment Laws Protect LGBT Employees

Does federal law prohibit workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation?


Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it will take up the important issue of whether federal employment laws protect LGBT employees.  The court will consider three different cases, two focused on discrimination based on sexual orientation and the third involving discrimination against a transgender employee. Already, the result of these cases is highly anticipated as it could have significant implications for the thousands of federal employees that identify as LGBT.  Our New York City employment discrimination lawyers discuss the three cases which the Supreme Court will rule on next fall below. 


Altitude Express v. Zarda 


In this case, a former skydiving employee claimed he was fired because he was gay.  The former employee, Donald Zarda, urged that his termination violated Title VII because he was fired due to his sex.  The trial court, however, ruled that Title VII does not apply to discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The court of appeals reversed, finding sexual orientation to be a subset of sex discrimination.  Now, the Supreme Court will hear the case, consolidated with the similar action of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia.

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia 

Gerald Bostock is a former child-welfare services coordinator for Clayton County, Georgia.  Bostock claimed that when his employer learned he was gay, the County accused him of mismanaging public funds and terminated his employment.  Really, according to Bostock, the County was falsifying a legitimate excuse to fire him for his sexual orientation.  Bostock filed suit, alleging a Title VII violation.  The district court dismissed the suit, finding Title VII does not apply to sex discrimination, and the court of appeals upheld the ruling.


R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC

In the third and final case accepted by the Supreme Court, a small funeral home located in Michigan hired an employee named Aimee Stephens.  Stephens identified as a man on employment records.  Later, Stephens informed her employer, funeral home owner Thomas Rost, that Stephens identified as a woman and intended to dress as one.  Rost, who describes himself as a devote Christian, fired Stephens because he believed allowing Stephens to dress as a woman would violate God’s commandments.  

The EEOC filed a lawsuit on behalf of Stephens and the court of appeals ruled in favor of Stephens. Rost sought Supreme Court review and now, the Supreme Court will consider whether Title VII bars discrimination against transgender employees.  Employers and employees alike should carefully watch for the outcome of these momentous cases, which could impact many.  


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