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Landmark court decision protects transgender people in workplace

| Jul 2, 2020 | Workplace Discrimination |

In a landmark decision with origins in Michigan, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that a federal civil rights law protects LGBTQ employees. In essence, employers cannot fire or discriminate against someone for being transgender or gay.

The high-profile case centered on Aimee Stephens, a funeral director at Harris Funeral Homes in the Detroit area. Stephens worked there for six years, but when she disclosed to her employer and co-workers in 2013 that she would “live and work full-time as a woman,” she was fired two weeks later.

High court made 6-3 ruling

The U.S. Supreme Court heard her case along with a similar case that dealt with discrimination. In a 6-3 decision on June 15, the high court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, also applied to and protected transgender people.

In the U.S., workers who identify as LGBTQ include an estimated 1 million people who are transgender and more than 7 million who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute, its school of law’s think tank that researches matters on sexual orientation and gender identity law.

Among the most significant civil rights decisions

Proponents regard the high court’s ruling as among its most significant related to the civil rights of people who identify as gay and transgender. Stephens’s case represented the first time the high court heard a civil rights case about a transgender person.

A total of 22 states and the District of Columbia have in place anti-discrimination laws protecting people based on gender identity. However, federal law on the matter excluded people who identify as transgender.

Stephens, however, never got to see her case come to fruition and applaud the decision. She died in May.

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