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SCOTUS: Employers Shouldn’t Fire People for Being Gay or Transgender

As pride month, 2020 comes to a close, we at the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence would like to applaud the decision made by the U.S. Supreme Court in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia.  There, the Court held that employment discrimination against someone for being gay or transgender is discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  In other words, as the Court put it, “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

The case combined three separate discrimination cases from different states. One them arose out of a Michigan transgender woman’s fight to hold her former employer accountable for having fired her because of her gender expression.  The majority’s opinion focused on how the word “sex” is meant to be interpreted within the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  The word “sex” in Title VII has previously been constrained to only protect those who have been discriminated against because they are female or male, but this opinion acknowledges that the term includes a person’s gender identity or sexual preference.  As the Court explained, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex.  Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

The Court’s simple ruling represents a remarkable step forward for our movement.  Any anti-discrimination scheme that leaves out certain identities leaves people more vulnerable to victimization.  For instance, according to a 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey estimated that 47% of transgender people are sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  Inadequate protections and the discrimination faced by LGBTQ citizens because of their identities has left a legacy of survivors losing housing, employment, and other measures of security that can help survivors recover.  The culmination of this discrimination has led survivors to be fearful to report sexual assaults to police, hospitals, or rape crisis centers.

In the midst of our celebration of this long-awaited decision, we recognize that it comes on the heels of actions to strip transgender individuals of important health care protections. The patchwork of policies across agencies, states, and localities can leave survivors feeling confused and conflicted about where they stand under the law. As advocates seek the best ways to support LGBTQ2S+ survivors, the Coalition is here to provide technical assistance and support.



Elinor Jordan is a Senior Program Manager of the Survivor Law Clinic and  Emily Abfalter is a Law Clerk, Survivor Law Clinic at The Michigan Coalition To End Domestic and Sexual Violence.

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual violence, our trained advocates are available to talk 24 hours a day toll-free at 1-855-VOICES-4 (1-855-864-2374).


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