WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, on Monday ruled a 56-year-old federal law protects gay and transgender workers from job discrimination.
The court's decision in Bostock vs. Clayton County provides millions of LGBT people protection under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in states and communities that do not already have such laws in place.
More than half of U.S. states don’t cover sexual orientation and gender identity through anti-discrimination laws. More than half the nation’s 8 million LGBT workers live in those states, according to the University of California at Los Angeles School of Law’s Williams Institute.
Ohio is one of those states, though some cities have have passed anti-discrimination ordinances covering sexual orientation and gender identity, including Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Toledo.
Conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberals, interpreting Title VII in the longstanding federal ban on sex discrimination in the workplace to cover bias on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Gorsuch wrote the majority opinion in the case that advanced LGBT rights beyond a 2015 decision that legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. Despite that ruling, LGBT people still could have been fired from their jobs in much of the country.
Gorsuch said lawmakers who drafted the 1964 Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated that work would "lead to this particular result."
However, Gorsuch said the law's language was clear in barring discrimination on the basis of “sex,” though it doesn't but explicitly mention sexual orientation or gender identity.
"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," Gorsuch wrote.
"Ours is a society of written laws. Judges are not free to overlook plain statutory commands on the strength of nothing more than suppositions about intentions or guesswork about expectations.
"Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee. We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law," Gorsuch wrote.
Justice Samuel Alito, writing the dissent for the minority, said, "There is only one word for what the Court has done today: legislation. The document that the Court releases is in the form of a judicial opinion interpreting a statute, but that is deceptive.
"The arrogance of this argument is breathtaking. ... There is not a shred of evidence that any member of Congress interpreted the statutory text that way when Title VII was enacted. But the Court apparently thinks that this was because the Members were not 'smart enough to realize' what its language means."