The Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This week the United States Supreme Court announced that it will hear three cases that will help decide if this Act extends its employment protections to gay and transgendered people. In the past there has been some disagreement on whether discrimination against gay people is considered sex discrimination.
The first case is brought from New York, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda. Donald Zarda was was a skydiving instructor who sued because he claimed that he was terminated from his position for being gay. His termination from the skydiving company came after a female customer complained that she was strapped too tightly to Zarda. He tried to reassure her by saying that he was “100 percent gay.” In 2014, Donald Zarda tragically died in a skydiving accident, and now his estate is pursuing the case on his behalf. In 2018, a panel of 13 judges decided that his termination was in fact unjust. When speaking for the majority of the panel Chief Judge Robert Katzmann said, “sexual orientation discrimination is motivated, at least in part, by sex and is thus a subset of sex discrimination.” A case from Georgia; Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga is also being heard by the court. Gerald Bostock worked for the county as a child welfare services coordinator. He claims that he was fired by the county for being gay. These two cases are being consolidated because of their similarities and are being heard by the Supreme Court together.
The third case being brought to the Supreme Court deals with the separate issue of employment discrimination against transgendered people. The case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, comes all the way from Michigan. Aimee Stephens was fired from the funeral home that she had been employed at for six years when she notified her coworkers that she was in fact transgendered and would like to start coming to work dressed as a woman. Her employer sites “upholding a sex-appropriate dress code” as the reason he terminated Aimee.
When the Supreme Court hears these cases, it will establish how exactly we will define ‘sex’ and ‘sex discrimination’ in court moving forward. The importance of hearing these cases is that they will present a chance for our country to enable or exterminate another form of discrimination. Another reason to follow this case is to see how the new conservative majority Supreme Court will handle issues like these. This is the first case in relation to the LGBTQ community that is being heard since the conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh took over Justice Anthony Kennedy’s seat after his retirement in July of 2018.