Law School Case Brief
Bostock v. Clayton Cty. - 2020 U.S. LEXIS 3252 (June 15, 2020)
In Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.
In each of three cases, an employer allegedly fired a long-time employee simply for being homosexual or transgender. Clayton County, Georgia, fired Gerald Bostock for conduct “unbecoming” a county employee shortly after he began participating in a gay recreational softball league. Altitude Express fired Donald Zarda days after he mentioned being gay. And R. G. & G. R. Harris Funeral Homes fired Aimee Stephens, who presented as a male when she was hired, after she informed her employer that she planned to “live and work full-time as a woman.” Each employee sued, alleging sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held that Title VII did not prohibit employers from firing employees for being gay, and so Mr. Bostock’s suit could be dismissed as a matter of law. The Second and Sixth Circuits, however, allowed the claims of Mr. Zarda and Ms. Stephens, respectively, to proceed. The United States Supreme Court granted the petitions for certiorari to review the split in the Circuit Courts.
Were employment dismissals, based in part on homosexuality or transgender, violations of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964?
The United States States Court held that employers each violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when they fired a long-time employee shortly after the employee revealed that he or she was homosexual or transgender because it was impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex. According to the Court, it made no difference if other factors besides the plaintiff’s sex contributed to the decision or that the employer treated women as a group the same when compared to men as a group. A statutory violation would occur if an employer intentionally relied in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee. Because discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status required an employer to intentionally treat individual employees differently because of their sex, an employer who intentionally penalized an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violated Title VII. There was no escaping the role intent played: Just as sex was necessarily a but-for cause when an employer discriminated against homosexual or transgender employees, an employer who discriminated on these grounds inescapably intended to rely on sex in its decision-making. As enacted, Title VII prohibited all forms of discrimination because of sex, however they may manifest themselves or whatever other labels might attach to them.
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