Supreme Court Divided on LGBTQ Workplace Rights

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Supreme Court Divided on LGBTQ Workplace Rights

Kaitlin Lee, Staff Writer

After Aimee Stephens came out as a transgender woman in 2013, she was fired immediately from her job as a funeral director at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes. She sued her employer with the backing of a legal team from the American Civil Liberties Union. 

Stephens won in lower courts, where judges in the 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals argued that “analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” This case went to the Supreme Court yesterday, where two hours of argument took place.

This case comes right after the Supreme Court’s decision in 2015 fully legalized same-sex marriage nationwide. However, that case was decided when Justice Anthony Kennedy, a strong supporter of LGBT+ rights, was still on the bench. His replacement, Justice Brett Kavanaugh, has a more conservative outlook. 

From the start, it’s clear that the four liberal justices believed that federal law bars discrimination based on gender identity. However, currently, it’s unclear if one of the five conservative justices will join them. In one instance, conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch told David Cole, a lawyer on the LGBTQ+ side, “Assume for a moment I’m with you on the textual evidence, it’s close, OK?” This suggested he believed they could win based on the plain text of the law. However, later in the case trial, it seemed to appear that Gorsuch agrees with the position presented by the Solicitor General. 

Solicitor General Noel Francisco stated that the law does not bar discrimination based on transgender status or sexual orientation. From his position, the law does not give those protections; Congress would have to change the law. 

But in terms of LGBTQ+ communities, there is a lot on the line with this decision. “It would be huge for the LGBT community to have protections in the private sector from employment discrimination, which is pretty much a rampant problem to this day,” said Georgetown University Law Center Professor Paul Smith, who argued and won a landmark gay rights case in 2003. 

In short, this case will determine the future of LGBTQ+ people around America. Whether there will be more freedoms granted to the community or there will be more roadblocks, this will greatly change the path to equality that we are traversing on.

Photo courtesy of USATODAY.COM