US Supreme Court decision in employment discrimination cases will impact millions of LGBT workers

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its decisions in the coming weeks on three cases that address whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Two of the cases—Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia and Altitude Express Inc v. Zarda—address sexual orientation, and the third case, Harris Funeral Homes v. Stephens, addresses gender identity. The Supreme Court’s decision will determine whether LGBT people across the country are protected under federal law if they are subject to employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

In a recent chapter in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics, Williams Institute researchers found that discrimination against LGBT people continues to be widespread. Despite public support for LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination laws across the country, 27 states currently do not have statewide statutory protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, or public accommodations.

“If the Court holds that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, millions of LGBT employees will be left without any protection from employment discrimination whatsoever,” said chapter co-author Christy Mallory, State & Local Policy Director at the Williams Institute. “And all LGBT people will face a patchwork of protections under various state and local laws and private corporate policies – protections that can change as they move or get new jobs. This inconsistency could create particular hardships right now, as many people in the U.S., including LGBT people, are facing under or unemployment.”

Recent Research

  • There are an estimated 7.1 million lesbian, gay and bisexual workers (ages 16 and older) in the U.S., and half of them—3.4 million LGB people—live in states without express statutory protections against sexual orientation discrimination in employment.
  • Approximately 1 million workers (ages 16 and older) identify as transgender in the U.S., and more than half of them—536,000 people—live in states without express statutory protections against gender identity discrimination in employment.
  • In a recent survey from the Williams Institute, 60% of LGB people reported being fired from or denied a job, and 48% reported being denied a promotion or receiving a negative evaluation, compared to 40% and 32% respectively among heterosexuals.
  • A 2017 survey by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health found that 59% of LGBTQ respondents believed that there were fewer employment opportunities in the area where they lived due to their LGBTQ identity.
  • According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 30% of respondents reported that they had experienced unfair treatment in the workplace in the prior year, and 16% reported losing a job due to their gender identity or expression.
  • A recent study found that between 2012 and 2016, 9,127 charges alleging sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination were filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). About half of them included claims of discriminatory terminations and harassment.
  • That study also found proportionately more allegations of serious discrimination issues, including harassment, discharge and retaliation, in states without anti-discrimination statutes.

For more information on the impact of the Court’s decision on LGBT people, read the Williams Institute’s amicus briefs.

April 29, 2020

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