Metro Weekly

Supreme Court could decide fate of LGBTQ discrimination cases on Jan. 11

All three cases raise question of whether LGBTQ people are protected by the Civil Rights Act

Photo: U.S. Supreme Court. Credit: UpstateNYer, via Wikimedia Commons.

The U.S. Supreme Court could decide as soon as Friday whether it will hear a trio of cases challenging whether employers can legally discriminate against LGBTQ workers.

The court previously relisted the three cases — R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. v. EEOC, Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda, and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia — for review at its Jan. 4 conference, but did not address them.

The court has since relisted all three cases for a Jan. 11 conference, at which point it will decide whether to grant certiorari, thereby paving the way for oral arguments and a final decision on the legal issues involved in the cases.

As noted by Bloomberg Law’s Jon Steingart, it has in recent years been seen as a sign that the court is more likely to review a case and determine whether lower court decisions will stand or be overturned.

If the court grants review in January, the case or cases it accepts will likely be argued and decided by June. If review is granted afterwards, the cases will be taken up during the high court’s 2019-2020 session.

All three cases revolve around the question of whether provisions prohibiting discrimination based on sex contained in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should be interpreted to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In Harris Funeral Homes, the court will be tasked with deciding whether the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals correctly determined that a funeral director unlawfully discriminated against Aimee Stephens, a Michigan transgender woman, by firing her after she began transitioning and presenting as a woman at work.

In the Zarda case, the court must determine whether the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals correctly determined that a now-deceased skydiving instructor had his Title VII rights violated when he was fired by Altitude Express, Inc. after some clients and staff expressed discomfort his sexual orientation.

In the Bostock case, the court must determine whether a gay man employed by Clayton County, Ga., was unlawfully fired after his superiors found out he was gay and played in a gay recreational softball league. The plaintiff, Gerald Bostock, has asked the Supreme Court to decide whether he has the right to sue the county for unlawfully terminating him.

If the court decides to review the cases at any point, its final decision will have an immense impact on the fate of LGBTQ rights.

If the court determines that Title VII does not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, it will be up to state and federal lawmakers to amend or pass laws that explicitly provide protections for sexual orientation and gender identity — a goal that could take decades to accomplish.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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