US Supreme Court decision protects 8.1 million LGBT workers from employment discrimination

Today’s landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court finds that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits workplace discrimination on the bases of sexual orientation and gender identity. The ruling provides protections to an estimated 8.1 million LGBT workers (ages 16 and older) in the U.S., including 7.1 million LGB people and 1 million transgender people.

The ruling is particularly important for LGBT employees in states that lack state laws that expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. An estimated 3.4 million LGB workers and 536,000 transgender workers live in the 27 states that do not have statutes that expressly prohibit employment discrimination based on these characteristics.

“The Supreme Court’s transformative decision provides much needed protection for LGBT people from employment discrimination,” said Christy Mallory, the State & Local Policy Director at the Williams Institute. “The decision also signals that other federal and state laws that prohibit discrimination based on sex likely also protect LGBT people.”

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 non-discrimination laws across the country, the majority of states currently do not have statewide statutory protections for LGBT people in employment, housing, or public accommodations.

Recent Research

  • There are an estimated 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.

“Today’s decision affirms the strength of Title VII to provide workplace protections for vulnerable communities,” said Jocelyn Samuels, Executive Director at the Williams Institute. “But the work doesn’t stop here. We must continue to ensure that what is now the law for LGBT people with regard to employment discrimination is also recognized as the law in every other sphere of activity. And we must recommit ourselves to achieving true equity across the board for all vulnerable populations, most notably people of color within our LGBTQ communities and more broadly.”

Today’s Supreme Court decision is likely to undermine legal arguments made last week by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which released a final rule that reversed non-discrimination protections for transgender people in health care, asserting that protections on the basis of sex apply only to “male or female as determined by biology.”

June 15, 2020

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