The highest court in the land may soon decide whether it will hear a trio of cases focused on the exact same issue. The cases – R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia – were set for review at the SCOTUS’s first January conference but were not addressed. They have been relisted for its next conference, and will decide whether or not to grant certiorari. All three of these cases raise the legal question as to whether or not LGBTQ people are protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) is a federal law that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. This law generally applies to employers with 15 or more employees and includes federal, state, and local government employers. Moreover, Title VII also applies to private and public universities and colleges, labor organizations, and employment agencies. Title VII prohibits discrimination based on those five classes in any aspect of employment. This includes hiring and firing; recruitment; compensation; testing; fringe benefits; transfer, promotion, layoff, or recall; pay, retirement plans, and disability leave; compensation, assignment, or classification; job advertisements; use of company facilities; training and apprenticeship programs; and other terms and conditions of employment.
In Harris Funeral Homes, the SCOTUS will need to determine whether the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals correctly held that a funeral director unlawfully discriminated against a transgender woman by firing the employee after she began transitioning. In Bostock, the Court must decide if a gay man employed by Clayton County was unlawfully fired after his supervisors learned about his sexual orientation and that he played on a recreational softball team for LGBT individuals and has a claim for wrongful termination. In Zarda, the SCOTUS is tasked with determining whether the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals was correct in determining that the firing of a now-deceased skydiving instructor after some clients and staff expressed discomfort because he was gay.
If the SCOTUS decides it will review this trio of cases at any point before or during its session, the final decision will have a far-reaching impact on the future of LGBTQ rights. Should the SCOTUS determine that sexual orientation and/or gender identity is not protected under Title VII, then state and federal lawmakers will be tasked with amending or passing laws that explicitly provide these protections. If the SCOTUS holds that gender identity and sexual orientation do fall under Title VII, federal law will provide protections for the LGBTQ community across the country.