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Religious Tolerance logo


2018: U.S. Supreme Court
considers three cases about
discrimination against LGBT
employees by their employers:

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During 1973, Lambda Legal was founded. It was the first national group in the U.S. promoting equality for -- and an end of discrimination against -- the LGBT community. Much of their work has since been devoted to promoting lawsuits in the nation's courts. 1 Their first case involved themselves as plaintiffs. Their application to be registered as a non-profit group had been rejected by a panel of judges in New York who claimed that Lambda Legal was neither a "benevolent nor [a] charitable" organization. Their appeal to the New York State Supreme Court resulted in the group being granted non-profit status.

Lambda Legal operates a Legal Help Desk which distressed persons can phone for:

"... information and resources regarding discrimination related to sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and HIV status." 2

The largest single topic presented by LGBT callers to the Help Desk involves workplace issues: being fired, harassed, and targeted at work because of their sexual orientation or transgender status.

The federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 contains a section called "Title VII" which prohibits workplace harassment and employment discrimination based on a person's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. 3 During 1978, pregnancy status was added as the sixth protected class. Employees can file complaints with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) if they feel they have been discriminated against. The Act applies to all:

"... private employers, state and local governments, and educational institutions with 15 employees or more." 3

However, religious organizations and religious educational institutions can freely discriminate against employees on the basis of the latter's religion. Employees of small companies have no federal protection against discrimination. They must rely on legislation in their state, if any exists.

Lambda Legal takes the stance that Title VII's prohibition of discrimination based on an employee's "sex" includes the individual's biological sex, as well as their sexual orientation, perceived gender, and transgender status. However, many conservative groups and individuals believe that the word "sex" in Title VII refers only to a person's biological sex as determined by their primary sexual characteristics: their testes, ovaries, and external genitalia. In case of intersex newborns with ambiguous reproductive organs, the presence of the "Y" sex chromosome in the newborn's DNA will indicate a male; absence indicates a female.

During 2017, almost half of the U.S. states had laws that protect employees on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, However, employees could still be fired:

  • In 28 states for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or
  • In 30 states for being transgender. 5

During 2017-JUL, the Justice Department under President Trump's administration announced that it had re-interpreted the scope of Title VII much more narrowly than the previous administration did. They decided that the word "sex" in Title VII only means biological sex. Thus, LGBT employees have no federal protection against being fired, harassed or targeted at their job.

During 2017-DEC, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to accept the appeal of Jameka Evans, a security guard in Georgia. She had claimed that she had been harassed at work and forced to quit because she is a lesbian. The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals -- which has jurisdiction in Alabama, Florida and Georgia -- had voted against Evans. However, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals -- which has jurisdiction in Illinois, Indiana, and part of Wisconsin -- had ruled in favor of a different plaintiff in a very similar case. Evans appealed her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to consider the case.

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However, similar cases continue to be filed, 4 notably:

  • In the case Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (Connecticut and New York) found that Title VII does protect Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor. He was allegedly fired for being gay and not exhibiting the macho male sex stereotypes of his co-workers.

  • In the case Gerald Bostock v. Clayton County, GA, he was allegedly fired as a child welfare service coordinator after his employer found out that he is gay. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that Title VII does not ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

  • In the case R.G & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (Kentucky, Michigan, and part of Ohio) ruled in favor of Aimee Stephens, a transgender funeral director in Michigan who was fired once she began transitioning at work. In their ruling they stated that:

    "Discrimination ‘because of sex’ inherently includes discrimination against employees because of a change in their sex." 4

    Federal Solicitor General Noel Francisco wrote brief in this case, stating that:

    "The court of appeals misread the statute and this Court’s decisions that Title VII encompasses discrimination on the basis of gender identity."

The Supreme Court could decide to accept none, any, or all of the three cases and hold hearings. The High Court would probably issue their ruling in late 2019-JUN.

Webmaster's opinion (bias alert):

Eventually, as sexual orientation minorities and transgender individuals are more universally accepted, the interpretation of Title VII will be found to include the entire LGBT community. However with the resignation on the U.S. Supreme Court of one Justice who is regarded as a swing voter and his replacement by another Justice who is a solidly conservative, 2019 many not be the year when equality is attained.

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More developments expected during the first half of 2019.

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Lambda Legal History," Lambda Legal, undated, at:
  2. "Legal Help Desk," Lambda Legal, in both English and En Español, undated, at:
  3. "Title VII Protected Classes: Everything You Need to Know," Upcounsel, at:
  4. Jessica Mason Pieklo, "Employees Can Be Fired for Being LGBTQ in 26 States. Will the Supreme Court Make That Even Worse?," Rewire News, 2019-JAN-02, at:
  5. "2017 Workplace Equality Fact Sheet," Out & Equal Workplace Advocates, at:

How you may have landed up here:

Home > "Hot" religious topics > Homosexuality & Bisexuality > Discrimination > here

Home > "Religious laws > Discrimination > here

Home > Religious hatred & conflict > here

Author: B.A. Robinson
Originally posted on: 2019-JAN-12
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