In the recent landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the United States Supreme Court held that an employer who terminates an employee for being homosexual or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against an individual “because of” the individual’s sex.
In this case, which involved three separate consolidated cases, each of the employers did not dispute that they fired their employees for being homosexual or transgender. Rather, they argued that intentional discrimination against employees because of their homosexual or transgender status is not a violation of Title VII.
The decision focused on the interpretation of the term “sex” as used in Title VII. The employers stressed that homosexuality and transgender status are distinct concepts from sex, and that if Congress wanted to address these matters in Title VII, it would have referenced them specifically.
In rejecting the employers’ arguments, the Court pointed out that it is irrelevant what an employer might call its discriminatory practice, how others might label it, or what else might motivate it. Discrimination on the basis of homosexuality or transgender status necessarily requires an employer to intentionally treat individual employees different because of their sex. Thus, an employer who intentionally penalizes an employee for being homosexual or transgender also violates Title VII.
Importantly, the Court elaborated that it makes no difference if other factors besides the employee’s sex contributed to the decision or that the employer treated women as a group the same when compared to men as a group. In such cases, a statutory violation still occurs because the employer intentionally relied in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to take adverse action against the employee.
While this is a historic decision confirming employment protections for homosexual and transgendered individuals throughout the United States, here in California, those individuals have been protected from discrimination pursuant to the Fair Employment and Housing Act for some time.
This decision should serve as a reminder for all employers to periodically review their policies and practices to ensure that they are in compliance with both federal and state law.
If you have questions or need further guidance as to your company’s policies and practices, please contact Drew Pomerance at (818) 992-9999, ext. 212, Michael Adreani, at ext. 234, Marina Vitek, at ext. 236, or Trevor Witt, at ext. 224.