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Supreme Court: Title VII Protects LGBT Employees, Too

July 31, 2020 Workplace Discrimination


On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision: that LGBT employees are entitled to protection from discrimination at work under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The wording of the law states that workplace discrimination is prohibited “based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin.”

According to the court, the word “sex”—which was originally assumed to apply more narrowly to discrimination against cisgender women—can also be extended to protect LGBT individuals.

This is a historic judgment. It might be difficult to believe, but prior to this, there was no law against discrimination at work based on transgender status or sexual orientation.

Who were the plaintiffs?

The ruling came in response to three separate cases from different areas of the country. The plaintiffs included:

  • Gerald Bostock, a child welfare advocate in Georgia who was fired soon after his employer found out about his membership in a gay softball league.
  • Aimee Stephens, a funeral director in Michigan who was fired after informing her employer that she was transgender and intended to start presenting as female at work.
  • Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor in New York who was fired just days after revealing he was gay. Zarda passed away before the ruling occurred.

Originally, separate lower courts ruled that Gerald Bostock’s employer was allowed to fire him because of his sexual orientation, but that Zarda and Stephens’ employers were out of line in firing them.

The Supreme Court analyzed all three cases to resolve the contradiction.

How the Justices decided 

The decision in this case hinged on a single word: “sex.”

Originally, this word was taken to mean only whether someone was biologically male or female.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that if an employer fires an employee for being gay or transgender, it was doing so because of sexual traits and behaviors—applying a discriminatory standard that it would not have applied for people of a different sex.

For instance, if an employer fires a gay male employee for being attracted to men, it is firing that employee for a trait it would tolerate in a straight female employee—being attracted to men.

Or if an employee fires a transgender woman while retaining an otherwise identical cisgender female employee, they are discriminating against the transgender woman for exhibiting traits or actions that it tolerates in cisgender women employees.

In both cases, “sex” is always part of a decision to discriminate against an LGBT employee, which is what the law was designed to prevent.

Future implications of this decision

It’s hard to say what effect this decision will have on future rulings. Detractors pointed out that it may present a challenge to religious rights cases. To what extent, however, remains to be seen.

In addition, the broad manner in which the court decided that the phrase “because of sex” prohibits discrimination against LGBT individuals means that these protections may apply outside of the workplace as well.

Are you facing discrimination at work? Talk to a Pennsylvania employment lawyer.

This new ruling offers hope to LGBT individuals who are facing discrimination at work.

If you believe your employer is discriminating against you because of your gender or sexual orientation, we can help hold them accountable—and get you the compensation you deserve.

Call us at 267-273-1054 or email us at for a free, confidential consultation today.

The information provided here does not constitute legal advice. It is intended for general purposes only. If you have questions about a specific legal issue, you should speak to an attorney.