Supreme Courts weighs LGBTQ employment discrimination

Supreme Courts weighs LGBTQ employment discrimination

Posted: Updated:
LUBBOCK, Texas -

Three days into the U.S. Supreme Court's new term year, and what could be a landmark case for the rights of LGBTQ Americans, is already on the table.

"What this case is about is whether or not Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extends to sexual orientation and protects that in the confines of employment," Noah Hearn, a Texas Tech law student and member of the LGBTQ community, said.

According to the Civil Rights Act, employers are barred from discriminating against an employee's sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.

The current argument before the Supreme Court: Is sexual orientation protected on the basis of sex?

Hearn said, under the current law, it is not, and the theory of this case is to change that.

"The argument here is that discriminating based on sexual orientation is a subcategory of sex discrimination. Basically this all goes back to Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989) where the Court said you can't discriminate on the basis of gender stereotypes when making employment decisions. There, a woman was denied a promotion because she 'swore like a sailor, walked like a man, and refused to wear makeup.' The discrimination in that case occurred because her actions did not comport with sex stereotypes. The argument is that if you apply that same precedent here, the sex stereotype is that men are interested in women and women are interested in men; it follows that basing employment decisions on someone's nonconformity with that norm violates Title VII," Hearn said.

Hearn said some states have statutes that protect against this kind of discrimination, but Texas is not one. 

That is why he said the state will have all eyes on the court's impending ruling. 

"If the SCOTUS were to rule in favor of the LGBTQ individuals in this case, then that would extend to Texas and we would be protected under Title VII for employment purposes," Hearn said.

Many expect at least one Supreme Court justice seat to open up in the next four years, but that is not the only reason why Hearn said participation in the upcoming 2020 election is crucial for the future of LGBTQ rights.

"When we vote, we vote for state legislators too. We vote for people who have the power to go forward and effectuate real change in Texas. So the burden is on us to participate in that process. If Texas citizens want to see Texas join the majority of the rest of the union by having these statutes, we should hit the ballot box," Hearn said.

If the Supreme Court rules that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect LGBTQ workers, the decision will not remove the current statutes in 48 percent of states across the nation. 

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