What’s at stake? LGBT discrimination cases at the Supreme Court

A funeral director in Michigan fired for being transgender. A skydiving instructor in New York fired for being gay. A child welfare services coordinator in Georgia fired because of his sexual orientation.

On October 8th, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear three cases that have the potential to drastically change the status of LGBT equality in the United States. We’re grateful to our legal advocates at the ACLU and Lambda Legal for all they’re doing to prepare for the arguments and to defend vital legal protections for LGBT workers.

Our team at MAP wanted to share some materials that may be helpful as you follow the cases.

It goes beyond just being fired

On face value, these cases are about whether companies can legally fire someone for being LGBT. And that’s shocking enough. But on a deeper level, the cases are about whether LGBT people will have equal opportunity or whether they may be treated as inferior citizens throughout all aspects of daily life.

What’s at stake?

This new infographic can be useful to understand what’s at stake.

These three cases will determine whether LGBT people will continue to have protections under federal nondiscrimination law, or whether it will be legal under federal law for employers to fire someone simply for being LGBT. If the Court rules that LGBT people are not protected by existing federal workplace protections, anti-LGBT opponents will rapidly use the same legal reasoning to work to attempt to overturn critical federal protections in housing, healthcare, credit, education and more.

In short, LGBTQ people could soon find themselves living in a nation where federal law says it is legal for them to be denied a job, fired, discriminated against at school, denied a loan, rejected by a doctor, and evicted from an apartment, simply because they are LGBT.

Our 2019 brief provides more information about the potential outcomes of the cases and their impacts.

The infographic below can be a helpful tool to understand the “domino” effect of a loss, where protections not only in employment, but in healthcare, education, housing, and credit could be at risk.

The infographic below shows the percentage of people by race living in states without protections who would lose federal workplace protections if the Supreme Court rules that Title VII doesn’t protect LGBT workers:

Take action

We need to be mobilizing NOW to ensure that every one of our federal and state representatives understands that passing anti-discrimination protections is an urgent and top priority.  We cannot wait for the outcome of this case to start mobilizing: every single person who is LGBT or who cares about LGBT people must engage now. 

Don’t forget: our equality maps provide a helpful picture of the existing patchwork of legal protections at the state level, and what would remain if LGBT people can no longer seek recourse through the EEOC for employment discrimination.

Together, the cases have the potential to take America backward. Now is the time to reiterate the importance of nondiscrimination for LGBT people and all people.

SCOTUS to Decide if LGBT Workers Are Protected: What’s At Stake?

Today the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear three cases related to protections for LGBT people under federal law. The cases are Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgiaand R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The first two cases relate to whether federal employment law’s prohibition on sex-based discrimination also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, while the last case examines whether the law prohibits discrimination based on gender identity. It is surprising for many people to learn that there is currently a confusing patchwork of legal protections for LGBT people.  While many federal courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) already recognize that discrimination against LGBTQ people involves forms of unlawful sex discrimination, these protections are under attack. Are LGBT Workers Protected from Discrimination? Unravelling the Patchwork of Federal, State, and Local Employment Protections, a resource from MAP, the ACLU, and Lambda Legal helps to make sense of the current situation.

The U.S. Supreme Court taking these cases is important for a few reasons.

First, LGBT people lack explicit protections under federal law and have relied on explicit state-level protections, explicit county or city-level protections, and the ability to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to seek recourse when they are treated unfairly on the job.

Second, a growing number of district and circuit level federal courts have ruled that when someone is fired for being transgender, that firing is inherently based on sex stereotypes about what it means to be a man or a woman, and is thus illegal under existing federal law. Similarly, multiple courts have ruled that if a person is fired for their sexual orientation, that is also discrimination based on sex. For example, if a woman is fired for being married to another woman, that discrimination is based on her sex: if she were a man, being married to a woman would not lead to being fired. Yet, the employers in these cases say that it should be perfectly lawful to fire someone just because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
The U.S. Supreme Court likely took these cases because of the “split circuits” on this issue as seen in these maps.

No one should be fired just because of who they are.

Finally, clarity from the U.S. Supreme Court could have an incredible impact on the lives of LGBT people.  One in four LGBT people report experiencing discrimination in the past year. If the Supreme Court were to affirm that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is illegal under federal law, that would mean that LGBT people nationwide would be protected by our nation’s civil rights legislation in the areas of employment, housing, education, and more. No longer would LGBT people’s access to basic equal protections depend on their state of residence. If the Court were to rule that federal law does not explicitly apply to sexual orientation and gender identity, it would bolster the case for the Equality Act and other state legislation that would explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

These cases will be argued before the court in fall of 2019.

For more about these cases and what’s a stake, read this brief authored by MAP, the ACLU, and Lambda Legal.