WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court agreed Monday to decide the next major legal dispute over gay rights: whether the nation's job discrimination laws apply to sexual orientation and gender identity.
The justices will hear three challenges from:
A New York skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, who alleged he was fired because he was gay. He later died, but his sister and life partner are continuing to press the case.
A Georgia county government employee, Gerald Bostock, who alleged he was fired from his job as a child welfare services coordinator because he was gay.
A Michigan transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, fired from the funeral home where she had worked for six years as Anthony Stephens.
The cases raise the issue of job discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender workers. A decision in the challengers' favor would mark an important step in the effort to protect the LGBT community from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations, advocates say.
Appeals courts are divided over whether a federal law that bans discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual orientation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York, and the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago, have ruled that sex discrimination laws protect gays and lesbians.
The 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, has said they do not. And the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati, has said transgender people are protected.
The Supreme Court refused in 2017 to enter the fray by considering a Georgia woman's complaint that she was fired from her job because she is a lesbian. It was a setback for gay rights groups that had hoped to get the issue to the high court before last summer's retirement of Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court's frequent swing vote and author of several landmark gay rights decisions.
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act bars discrimnination on the bases of sex, race, color, national orgin and religion. It does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity.
In the 7th Circuit, Judge Diane Wood ruled in 2017 that "it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex." But in the 11th Circuit, Judge William Pryor said Congress "has not made sexual orientation a protected class."