Civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers, Supreme Court rules

By Adam Liptak
The New York Times Company


The Supreme Court ruled Monday that a landmark civil rights law protects gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination, handing the movement for LGBT equality a stunning victory.

“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6-3 ruling.


Until Monday’s decision, it was legal in more than half the states to fire workers for being gay, bisexual or transgender. The vastly consequential decision extended workplace protections to millions of people across the nation, continuing a series of Supreme Court victories for gay rights even after President Donald Trump transformed the court with two appointments.

The lopsided ruling, coming from a fundamentally conservative court, was a surprise. Gorsuch, who was Trump’s first appointment to the court, was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The decision, covering two sets of cases, was the court’s first on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights since the retirement in 2018 of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinions in all four of the court’s major gay rights decisions. Proponents of these rights had worried that his departure would halt the progress of the movement toward equality.

“This is a simple and profound victory for LGBT civil rights,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, a law professor at Columbia. “Many of us feared that the court was poised to gut sex discrimination protections and allow employers to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity, yet it declined the federal government’s invitation to take that damaging path.”


The case concerned Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination based on race, religion, national origin and sex. The question for the justices was whether that last prohibition — discrimination “because of sex”— applies to many millions of gay and transgender workers.

Gorsuch wrote that it did. “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” he wrote.

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