On Monday, April 22nd, the U.S. Supreme Court said that it will hear three cases that turn on whether existing civil rights bans on discrimination in the workplace under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 include discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender status.
The decision will determine the issue that has divided numerous lower courts. Historically, federal circuits have embraced a narrower reading of Title VII and rejected such protections. However, some circuits have begun to change course and adopt a more expansive view. Similarly, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in the last few years ruled in administrative decisions that Title VII protections include sexual orientation and gender identity despite its prior stance to the contrary. The Supreme Court has previously declined to hear cases on this exact issue.
The three cases at issue pose similar questions regarding the scope of Title VII – for two cases the question is whether Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and the third case poses the question of whether Title VII protects workers from discrimination based on their transgender status. The ruling on these issues could have far-reaching effects.
Of note, 21 states including California, Colorado, Nevada and Utah already have statutes that explicitly prohibit bias based on sexual orientation.