On June 15, 2020 in a 6-3 decision titled Bostock v Clayton County, 590 U.S. ___ (2020), the United States Supreme Court held that “[a]n employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII” of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
This momentous decision means, for the first time, that employers cannot discriminate against employees for being gay or transgender without implicating Title VII, which forbids discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex.
Bostock is actually a combination of three separate cases. The first, Altitude Express v. Zarda, sought Title VII protections for Dan Zarda, who had been fired from the skydiving business where he worked after he revealed that he was gay to a customer. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, is a Sixth Circuit case in which Aimee Stephens was fired from her job as a funeral director after informing her employer that she was transgender and wanted to come to work as a woman. Finally, Bostock v Clayton County, Georgia arose when the state child welfare services office fired Gerald Bostock for participation in a gay recreational softball league. Each of these individuals had worked several years in their jobs and were fired shortly after their employer learned they were gay or transgender, with no other reason offered for their firing. As Justice Neal Gorsuch argued in his opinion, “An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
The implications of Bostock will be far reaching. LGBTQ+ workers will now be protected by federal civil rights laws and will be able to participate in the workplace without discrimination. Not only will the protections of Title VII prevent firing due to sexual orientation or gender identity, but will also extend to terms and conditions of employment, such as training and promotion, and will prevent workplace harassment. Further, LGBTQ+ employees will be protected from retaliation for exercising their rights in the workplace.
While many states already have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, Ohio is not among them. As a result, Ohio LGBTQ+ employees must work for an employer with 15 or more employees to be entitled to coverage by Title VII.
Because of Bostock, many citizens of Ohio who have experienced discrimination in the workplace due to their sexual orientation or gender identity will now be able to bring discrimination claims in federal court and will have access to the broad remedies for damages provided there under federal law.