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Supreme Court Rules Title VII Protects Gay and Transgender Employees

By Lauren Barghols Hanna

Phillips Murrah attorney Lauren Hanna

Lauren Barghols Hanna

Earlier this morning, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling that an employer who fires or otherwise discriminates against an employee for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the Supreme Court heard three cases in which employers had fired long-term employees simply for being gay or transgender.  A Georgia county employee was fired for “conduct unbecoming” an employee after he joined a gay recreational softball league.  A funeral home terminated an employee who presented as a male when she was hired, after the employee advised her manager that she planned to “live and work full-time as a woman.”  A skydiving company fired a skydiving instructor days after he advised a customer that he was gay.

In a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court held that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination “because of sex” prevents an employer from taking any adverse actions against employees on the basis of gender, sexual identity, or sexual expression.  Justice Gorsuch, author of the majority opinion, unequivocally declared that “[a]n 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 Bostock opinion considers an employer with two employees, both of whom are attracted to men.  The employees are materially identical in all respects, except that one is a man and the other is a woman.  If the employer fires the male employee because he is attracted to men, the employer necessarily is discriminating against him for the traits or actions it tolerates in the female employee.  Similarly, if an employer fires a transgender person because she was identified as male at birth but now identifies as a female, the employer is firing the individual for displaying traits or actions it would otherwise tolerate in an employee identified as female at birth.  Employers cannot discipline employees for being “insufficiently feminine” or “insufficiently masculine” without violating Title VII.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  The Supreme Court noted that the legislators who adopted the Act in 1964 may not have anticipated this particular outcome, but that those same legislators may also not have anticipated that the Act would ultimately prohibit discrimination on the basis of motherhood, prohibit sexual harassment of female employees, and—eventually–prohibit sexual harassment of male employees to the same extent as female employees.  But, as Justice Gorsuch noted, the phrase “because of…sex” is clear and unambiguous; thus, the “limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”

Today, the Supreme Court clarified that “[a]n individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions” and that “[a]n employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

See the United States Supreme Court opinion HERE.


Phillips Murrah stands ready to assist employers in ensuring that employee handbooks and hiring and disciplinary practices are fully compliant with Title VII and all relevant employment laws.

Contact us by EMAIL or call 405.235.4100.

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Phillips Murrah’s legal team welcomes labor and employment attorney

Lauren Barghols Hanna

Lauren Barghols Hanna

Phillips Murrah law firm is proud to welcome Lauren Barghols Hanna to our downtown Oklahoma City office.

The Firm welcomed Lauren to the Firm’s Labor and Employment Practice Group as an Of Counsel attorney.

As a part of her employment practice, Lauren counsels and represents management in all phases of the employment relationship, including litigation matters involving discrimination, retaliation, harassment and wrongful discharge claims, whistleblower claims, claims related to employment agreements and theft of trade secrets, and other disputes arising from the workplace.

She also works with employers in crafting appropriate employment policies and procedures, employee handbooks, non-disclosure/non-solicitation agreements, and employee severance agreements and releases.

Lauren’s practice in the area of water rights frequently involves the representation of landowners in obtaining groundwater and streamwater permits for irrigation, oil and gas industry production, and other beneficial uses.

Lauren is a contributing author to the Oklahoma Employment Law Letter and has been interviewed by The Oklahoman, served as a guest legal columnist for The Journal Record business newspaper, and spoken at seminars on a variety of employment-related topics. She also authored the Oklahoma chapter of the LexisNexis Waters and Water Rights treatise.

Lauren’s achievements have earned her inclusion in The Best Lawyers in America (employment law—management; labor and employment litigation) and Oklahoma Super Lawyers.

In addition to her legal practice at the firm, she serves as a volunteer attorney for Oklahoma Lawyers for Children, a nonprofit organization that uses the time, talent, and resources of pro bono lawyers to represent and assist children in various matters, including parental termination jury trials before the Oklahoma County District Court (Juvenile Division).

In 2014, the Oklahoma CASA Association honored Lauren with its “Attorney of the Year” award for her work with OLFC. Lauren and her family also work with the Tinker Air Force Base Home Away From Home Program, welcoming Airmen serving their first tour into their family for holiday meals, birthday celebrations, summer cookouts, and other activities to create community and mentorship for young enlisted airmen.

Born and raised in Oklahoma, Lauren lives in Edmond with her husband Adam and her two children. Her hobbies include rowing, camping, and OU sports.