In June, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark decision on Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act. The court held that Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and transgender status. It represents a major victory for LGBTQ workers across the country.

The opinion – Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618 (S. Ct. June 15, 2020) – addresses three cases involving employees who were fired because they were gay or transgender. It resolves the longstanding question of whether Title VII’s prohibition of sex-based discrimination encompasses sexual orientation and gender identity.

The rationale

In reaching its groundbreaking decision, the Court focused on the plain language of the federal statute. Title VII prohibits covered employers from discriminating against individuals “because of” their sex (among other grounds). Discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or transgender status necessarily turns on sex, the Court reasoned, just as sexual harassment and discrimination against mothers are prohibited as forms of sex discrimination.

The impact

The decision has a far-reaching impact on employers nationwide who are covered by Title VII. It gives employees and job applicants equal opportunity in the workplace, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

While many states already have legislation that expressly prohibits employment discrimination on those grounds, the decision adds another layer of protection. It also gives workers who experience discrimination the legal grounds to enforce their rights at the federal level.