Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia: U.S. Supreme Court Holds that Civil Rights Act of 1964 Protects Gay and Transgender Employees

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In a landmark decision on Monday, June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applied to discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation, specifically homosexual or transgender status. In doing so, Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, wrote the majority opinion for the 6 to 3 vote. The decision is based on a straightforward statutory interpretation analysis of Title VII.  Specifically, what is the ordinary meaning of Title VII’s command that it is “unlawful…for an employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” § 2000e – 2(a)(1).

The Court focuses its analysis on the “because of such individual’s…sex…”

The Court stated:

“An employer violates Title VII when it intentionally fires an individual employee based in part on sex. It doesn’t matter if other factors besides the plaintiff ’s sex contributed to the decision.  And it doesn’t matter if the employer treated women as a group the same when compared to men as a group.  If the employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee—put differently, if changing the employee’s sex would have yielded a different choice by the employer—a  statutory  violation  has  occurred.   Title VII’s  message  is  ‘simple  but  momentous’: An  individual  employee’s sex is ‘not relevant to the selection, evaluation, or compensation of employees.’  Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U. S. 228, 239 (1989) (plurality opinion). The statute’s message for our cases is equally simple and momentous:  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.


When an employer fires an employee because she is homo-sexual or transgender, two causal factors may be in play— both the  individual’s  sex  and  something  else  (the  sex  to which the individual is attracted or with which the individual identifies).  But Title VII doesn’t care.  If an employer would not have discharged an employee but for that individual’s  sex,  the  statute’s  causation  standard  is  met,  and liability may attach.”

Further, it does not matter that homosexuality and transgender status cannot be found on the list of protected status’ under Title VII. It is enough, the Court opined, that they are inherently under the broad umbrella of “sex” of Title VII:

“We agree that homosexuality and transgender status are distinct concepts from sex. But, as we’ve seen, discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entails discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second. Nor is there any such thing as a ‘canon of donut holes,’ in which Congress’s failure to speak directly to a specific case that falls within a more general statutory rule creates a tacit exception. Instead, when Congress chooses not to include any exceptions to a broad rule, courts apply the broad rule. And that is exactly how this Court has always approached Title VII. ‘Sexual harassment’ is conceptually distinct from sex discrimination, but it can fall within Title VII’s sweep. Oncale, 523 U. S., at 79–80. Same with ‘motherhood discrimination.’  See Phillips, 400 U. S., at 544.”

Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 590 U.S. ___(2020).

To read the full opinion of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, as well as the dissenting opinions, click here.