Monday, September 30, 2019
SCOTUS to Consider Question of whether Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity are Protected by Title VII
Lots of writing and thinking about the upcoming Supreme Court cases to be heard on Oct. 8 on whether Title VII's "because of sex" extends to sexual orientation and/or gender identity. The consolidated cases are, from SCOTUSblog:
Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618 [Arg: 10.8.2019]
R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, No. 18-107 [Arg: 10.8.2019]
|Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623 [Arg: 10.8.2019]
Issue(s): Whether the prohibition in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1), against employment discrimination “because of . . . sex” encompasses discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation.
Some of the analysis includes:
Andrew Koppelman, LGBT Discrimination and the Subtractive Moves
The Supreme Court will shortly consider whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination in employment, covers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The lower courts are split on whether such protection is granted by the plain language of the statute. The judges who reject the discrimination claim argue that the statute does not prohibit activity that is explicitly within its scope, and which is part of the mischief that the statute aims to remedy. Their subtractive strategy, an innovation in statutory interpretation, comprises a number of different argumentative moves, with a common aim: to draw upon the cultural context at the time of enactment to avoid an unwelcome implication of a statute’s plain language. This strategy however maximizes judicial discretion and betrays the promise of textualism.
In a pair of cases that’ll be argued on October 8th—Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, No. 17-1618, and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623—the Supreme Court will consider whether the provision in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 making it unlawful for a covered employer to “discriminate against” an employee “because of such individual’s . . . sex” prohibits that employer from firing an employee because he’s a gay man.
The defendant employers and the Solicitor General recently filed their briefs arguing that there’s no Title VII liability in these cases. Those briefs frame the issue in a particular, familiar way: They assume that the Court’s decision depends upon whether it would violate Title VII for an employer to implement a policy that categorically excludes all persons with same-sex orientation, gay men and lesbians alike, from the workforce—as though the cases involve what a couple of court of appeals judges (Judge Lynch in the Second Circuit and Judge Sykes in the Seventh Circuit) described as employers who “insist that [their] employees match the dominant sexual orientation regardless of their sex” and therefore hire “only heterosexual employees.”As I’ll explain in Parts IV and V of this post, I think such a categorical “heterosexuals only need apply” policy would violate Title VII, even if it equally affected gay men and lesbians alike. Before getting to that discussion, however, in Part III I explain why this common framing of the question—based on a hypothetical employer who believes that homosexuality as such is immoral and thus won’t employ gay men or lesbians—is not, in fact, the scenario raised by these cases or, indeed, by virtually any of the reported cases in which employees have alleged that they were fired because of their same-sex orientation. In Bostock and Zarda, for instance, if the supervisors in question did fire the plaintiffs (at least in part) because they were gay men--something the plaintiffs will have to establish--it's not at all obvious that they would have fired similarly situated lesbians, too. Indeed, both of the defendant employers in these cases, like almost all employers covered by Title VII, steadfastly insist that they don't have a policy or practice of hiring only heterosexuals—in part, no doubt, because such discrimination would be unlawful wholly apart from Title VII, but also because very few employers in the nation today would be willing to exclude all gay employees from their workforce: such a policy or open and notorious practice would be foolhardy, if not economically disastrous (not to mention morally odious) for almost employers.Once this crucial point is acknowledged—namely, that there’s no reason to believe these employers would have treated lesbian employees the way they (allegedly) treated the gay male plaintiffs—that ought to resolve the Title VII question, because both the Solicitor General and the defendants themselves concede that even if Congress didn’t intend to prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation, as such, it is a form of prohibited sex discrimination for a covered employer to treat a gay man less favorably than the employer would have treated a similarly situated lesbian (or vice versa).
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes on behalf of Stephens, arguing her former employer fired her because she is transgender, violating federal civil rights laws. The funeral home and its owner Thomas Rost, however have since argued that “maintaining a professional dress code that is not distracting to grieving families is an essential industry requirement that furthers their healing process.”
This dispute will play out before the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 8, where the justices will grapple with a broader question of whether gender identity should be protected under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, national origin, and religion. The divisive issue has been drawn into the national spotlight, and pits two federal agencies against each other.
The funeral home’s dress code argument, backed by the Justice Department, reveals a practical clash in the workplace that could be resolved when the high court issues its opinion. Whether these policies are permitted under Title VII already falls in a legal gray area, and has prompted challenges for decades and inspired some state action recently, specifically over hair or grooming policies.