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U.S. Supreme Court Holds that Title VII of Civil Rights Act Protects LGBTQ+ Workers from Discrimination

On June 15, 2020 the U.S. Supreme Court held in a 6‑3 ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination on the basis of sex, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The Court held that even if Congress may not have expressly contemplated discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity when enacting the Civil Rights Act, Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination protects LGBTQ+ employees by its plain language.

In October 2019, the Supreme Court heard arguments in three separate cases which involve whether Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination in the workplace includes a prohibition on sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination—Altitude Express, Inv. v. Zarda, Bostock v. Clayton County, and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. In each of these cases, employees had filed lawsuits against their employers alleging that they were fired in violation of Title VII because of their sexual orientation, in the case of Zarda and Bostock, or gender identity, in the case of Harris.

Cravath submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Members of Congress, on a pro bono basis, in these three cases arguing that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination already prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. As Members of Congress, Cravath argued amici have a unique interest in the proper interpretation and application of federal nondiscrimination laws, particularly where, as with Title VII, differing interpretations of a statute alternatively vindicated or eliminated the rights of their constituents. Cravath argued on behalf of Members of Congress that Title VII necessarily prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity because sexual orientation and gender identity are “sex‑based considerations” inexorable from a person’s sex and because discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity represents the ultimate form of discrimination on the basis of gender stereotypes, which is already protected under Title VII in light of well‑settled Supreme Court precedent.

Cravath’s role in supporting Members of Congress in filing an amicus brief was demonstrably important because of the central role Congressional language played in the Court’s understanding of Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination. For example, in an attempt to clarify the protections for LGBTQ+ Americans under Title VII, Members of Congress have introduced legislation that would explicitly prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the workplace. However, some have suggested that these proposed laws impliedly suggest that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are not already prohibited. The Court agreed with amici Members of Congress that this is wrong. Indeed, Members of Congress introduced such legislation as a “belt‑and‑suspenders” approach to make clear what was already codified by Title VII: that employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Please click here to read the full amicus brief.

The Cravath team is led by partner Peter T. Barbur and includes practice area attorney Katherine D. Janson and associates Nathalie J.K. Baker and Derek K. Mong.

The case is Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Case No. 17‑1618 (Supreme Court).

Cravath’s support for LGBTQ+ rights is longstanding. The Firm has filed amici briefs in similar cases on behalf of Members of Congress, including Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (Supreme Court), Gloucester County School Board v. G.G. (Supreme Court), Hively v. Ivy Tech Community Congress (7th Circuit), Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital (11th Circuit) and Christiansen v. Omnicom Grp., Inc. (2d. Circuit).