LGBTQIA+ advocates are concerned about the future of labor rights of queer employees. The reason for this concern lies in a vital case that was recently argued in front of the Supreme Court, R.G. & G.R., Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). This court case is centered around whether or not Title VII prohibits discrimination against people based on gender identity, primarily in the case of those who identify as transgender. This is but one case in front of the Supreme Court that relates to workplace discrimination against queer employees and two other related and critically important cases were heard on Oct. 8 as well.
The two other cases that were heard by the highest court in the land were Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, both of which are related to whether or not existing non-discrimination laws protect queer employees from being fired on the basis of their sexual orientation.
Justice Gorsuch, the first of the two Supreme Court Justices nominated by President Trump is a textualist, someone whose judicial philosophy centers around the idea that the meaning of laws should be centered around their wording. Early analysis of the arguments have suggested that in this particular group of cases he may stick to those principals and if so, his vote may become a surprise swing vote. A swing vote like this would enable a few of these cases to be decided in a way that upholds and bolsters the labor rights of queer employees, protecting them from discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Some of the other conservative Justices on the bench had colder reactions to the concerns and arguments of the plaintiffs. Justice Roberts dismissed the pronouns of the plaintiffs and was more concerned about the impact this case may have on religious conservatives than on the future careers of queer members of the workforce. Justice Alito was reportedly convinced that the intent of Congress in 1964 was not to protect the rights of LGBTQIA+ employees, and that that intent or lack thereof should resolve this case. Justice Thomas, well-known for his silence during the hearing of arguments, stayed true to this tradition. Justice Kavanaugh, the newest of the Justices and the second Justice nominated by President Trump, has a vague position thus far, with the Justice only asking one question during the arguments which didn’t say much about his position on the issues in question.
All of the cases revolve around Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark anti-discrimination law that outlawed employer discrimination on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. Typically it applies to employers with 15 or more employees, public and private colleges, universities, employment agencies and labor organizations. This law prohibits a variety of forms of discrimination in the workplace, including hiring and firing, transfers, promotions, layoffs, recalls, testing, pay, retirement plans and other terms and conditions of employment. This law was followed by others like the Equal Pay Act, which has advanced more specific labor protections for employers who may otherwise face workplace discrimination.