Today, June 15, 2020, is a landmark day in the United States for LGBTQ civil rights. Today the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on race, color, national origin, religion, and sex also protects LGBTQ employees from being fired because of their sexual orientation.
Photo Credit: Mike Maguire, Flickr Creative Commons
The opening statement in the Supreme Court Opinion is powerful.
Sometimes small gestures can have unexpected consequences. Major initiatives practically guarantee them. In our time, few pieces of federal legislation rank in significance with the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There, in Title VII, Congress outlawed discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.
Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result. Likely, they weren’t thinking about many of the Act’s consequences that have become apparent over the years, including its prohibition against discrimination on the basis of motherhood or its ban on the sexual harassment of male employees. But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands. When the express terms of a statute give us one answer and extratextual considerations suggest another, it’s no contest. Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.
This ruling will have implications for HR leaders and managers in every organization in the country. We hope that not only will this change how people hire, but also start conversations about how employers include their LGBTQ employees in all aspects of employment.
In March, Villanova HRD professor Dr. Christian Thoroughgood published this HBR article on Creating a Trans-Inclusive Workplace. It states that "despite a growing global awareness of the struggles trans people face, many employers remain ill-equipped to create the policies and workplace cultures that would support trans employees." As many organizations begin to think about returning to offices and workplaces, beyond the physical health and safety of employees, HR and business leaders will need to address the national conversations happening around diversity, equity, and inclusion. As the article states, "only when people feel totally authentic and connected with their organizations can they achieve their full potential at work . . . Employers that get this right aren’t just being savvy from a business standpoint. They are also crafting a corporate legacy—one in which human dignity is prioritized and doing the right thing by employees is regarded as fundamental to success."
"Only when people feel totally authentic and connected with their organizations can they achieve their full potential at work . . . Employers that get this right aren’t just being savvy from a business standpoint. They are also crafting a corporate legacy—one in which human dignity is prioritized and doing the right thing by employees is regarded as fundamental to success."
--Dr. Christian Thoroughgood
March-April 2020 HBR
Villanova HRD is celebrating with our LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff today. While this ruling is long overdue, we are excited for the victory. We all deserve to live and work with the same civil rights and freedoms. Our country still has a long way to go in this area for our LGBTQ citizens, our black and brown citizens, and many other groups who do not currently have the same protections and rights under our laws. But this is no small victory. This is a step forward. There are many steps still needed ahead. Let's celebrate this victory and continue to fight for more!