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SCOTUS decision expands Title VII protections

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Supreme Court LGBT Rights

In this Oct. 8, 2019, file photo, supporters of LGBTQ rights hold placards in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Supreme Court’s decision on June 15 stating that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity signaled both continuity, as well as a break with the past.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, issued the majority opinion that states in forbidding discrimination based on “sex,” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act also bars discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In separate dissents, Associate Justices Samuel Alito and Brett Kavanaugh both argued that if Title VII has covered sexual orientation and transgender status all along, what is to be made of both the history and case law allowing for such discrimination since the Civil Rights act passed.

One such example would be the military.

Mia Mason is the Democratic candidate running for the Maryland’s 1st District seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. According to her campaign website, Mason served in the military for 20 years, was discharged because she is a member of the LGBTQ community and then allowed to return to service.

Mason wrote in an email June 16 that the there is still a lot work to de done to restore equity and equality. She said the latest ruling will help restore equality in the military as well, including those barred from service under last year’s ban on transgender troops.

“I believe this is a historic decision by the Supreme Court that ensures we have equitable workplace protections for everyone regardless of nation of origin, religion, color, and sex in all states finally,” Mason said. “I’m hopeful that we all can work in an environment without fear of being fired for who we are and this historic decision is a huge first step towards this.”

Incumbent Congressman Andy Harris, a Republican, voiced his disappointment “that the Supreme Court legislated from the bench” in its decision.

“It is the job of the Congress, not of the Supreme Court, to legislate categories of disallowed discrimination under Title VII. Attempts to include sexual orientation and gender identity under Title VII have failed in Congress in the past, including recently, and the Court should have followed the intent of Congress,” Harris said in a statement.

In the majority opinion, Gorsuch wrote that the employers at the heart of the three cases make a similar argument: Congress has considered proposals to add such language to Title VII but has not done so, instead enacting “statutes addressing other optics that do discuss sexual orientation.”

“Maybe some in the later legislatures understood the impact Title VII’s broad language already promised for cases like ours and didn’t think a revision needed. Maybe others knew about its impact but hoped no one else would notice. Maybe still others, occupied by other concerns, didn’t consider the issue at all. All we can know for certain is that speculation about why a later Congress declined to adopt new legislation offers a ‘particularly dangerous’ basis on which to rest an interpretation of an existing law a different and earlier Congress did adopt,” Gorsuch wrote.

U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., praised the ruling and wants to build upon it with the passage of the Equality Act. In a statement June 15, Cardin said he is original co-sponsor of the bill that would ensure “equality for LGBTQ Americans in public accommodations and housing, education, federal funding, credit and the jury system.”

“Today’s landmark decision in the Supreme Court further reinforces the fact that individuals should not be fired for simply being who they are or whoever they love. Protections against workplace discrimination are finally the law of the land nationwide. It has been unconscionable that such activities were still lawful in more than half the states,” Cardin said.

While the employers in the case and the dissenting judges raised questions about further implications — for bathrooms, housing, sports and beyond — Gorsuch wrote none of that was currently before the court. He wrote that the only question before the court was whether an employer who fires someone simply for being homosexual or transgender has discharged or otherwise discriminated against that individual ‘because of such individual’s sex.’”

“Ours is a society of written laws. Judges are not free to overlook plain statutory commands on the strength of nothing more than suppositions about intentions or guesswork about expectations. In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee. We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Gorsuch concluded.

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