Many in the media and around the country expressed concern about how President Trump was remaking the Supreme Court by adding two conservative jurists to the bench. So civil rights advocates were pleasantly surprised when the highest court in the land issued an unequivocal 6-3 ruling that protects the rights of gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination.
The ruling extends the role of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned discrimination of workers at companies with 15 or more employees based on their race, sex, national origin or religion. This ruling wrestled with how sex or gender applies to transgender and gay employees. “It is impossible,” conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote for the majority, “to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
Federal protection is the difference
Massachusetts is one of 22 states (plus the District of Columbia) that made it illegal to dismiss an employee for being transgender or gay. Since 2015, workers in some states could get married by the justice of the peace but then be fired by their boss for doing so. This landmark ruling directly impacts the lives of more than eight million workers who will now have the option to use federal courts when they file a discrimination suit.
While this ruling is far-ranging, there are some exemptions. Along with the aforementioned minimum of 15 employees necessary for the application of Title VII, faith-based institutions and religious universities and schools have frequently cited religious liberties as grounds for dismissing an LGBT worker. The Trump administration had pushed to remove transgender service people from the military, but this ruling would apply to all military branches.
Employment disputes may still occur
Both Massachusetts and New Hampshire have laws on the books protecting gay and transgender workers, so there should not be a significant shift in the rules regarding employers and employees. However, employers do have the right to dismiss an employee who does not meet expectations. This can be a grey area, so employers and employees with questions can discuss the matter with an attorney who has experience working on business and employment law cases where a worker is dismissed.