Supreme Court Rules in favor of supporting LGBTQ+ Workers

Tuesday, June 16, 2020 - 2:04am

Ann Arbor psychologist Dr. Joy Saniyah speaks at the LGBTQ Health and Wellness week at the School of Social Work in February.

Ann Arbor psychologist Dr. Joy Saniyah speaks at the LGBTQ Health and Wellness week at the School of Social Work in February. Buy this photo
Natalie Stephens/Daily

The United States Supreme Court made history Monday by ruling discrimination illegal against people who identify as LGBTQ+ in matters of employment. The 6-to-3 majority ruling allowing for workplace protections against discrimination revisited the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include the LGBTQ+ community, 

This case was sparked by a lawsuit filed by Aimee Stephens, a transgender woman from Michigan who was fired from her job at a funeral home in 2013 due to revealing that she is transgender to her boss. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, though prohibiting discrimination “on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national orgin,” does not specify the inclusion of the LGBTQ+ community. Stephens’ trial pushed for a modern interpretation.

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., released a statement regarding the ruling early Monday. 

“This is a historic day for LGBTQ+ rights and equality in this country,” Peters said. “Nobody should face discrimination in the workplace or fear losing their job for who they are or who they love. Michigander Aimee Stephens did not live to see this day, but today we honor her and carry on this fight in her memory. While this is a major step forward we have a lot of work to do, including passing the Equality Act.”

Stacie Clayton, chair of the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, also issued a statement on their policies on discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“Today’s ruling confirms the position taken by the Commission in 2018: discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation is discrimination on the basis of sex,” Clayton said. “Two years ago, we issued an interpretive statement that under Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, discrimination on the basis of sex includes protection against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation,” Clayton said. “We are gratified that, at least in the area of employment, the court has now ruled that the same interpretation applies to federal law.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer also issued a statement in support of the Supreme Court’s ruling for Michigan residents. 

“Today, in a landmark ruling, the Supreme Court confirmed what we already know — that nobody deserves to lose their job because of who they are or how they identify,” Whitmer said. “This is good news for the countless LGBTQ+ Michiganders who have been fighting for equality for decades, and would not have been possible if not for one of the plaintiffs, Aimee Stephens, a brave Michigander who fought for transgender rights until the day she died.”

Although this is a landmark case, Whitmer says there is more work to be done to ensure equal rights and protections for the LGTBQ+ community. 

“There is still more work to do. We must continue fighting to expand the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect members of the LGBTQ+ community and make Michigan a state where more people want to move to for opportunity,” Whitmer said. “In honor of Aimee, take today to celebrate this victory, and tomorrow, let’s continue fighting to ensure equality for all Michiganders.” 

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, first Michigan state official to openly identify with the LGTBQ+ community, is working with a coalition of 22 attorneys general to argue that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against transgender people or on the basis of sexual orientation. Nessel also said in a statement that this court ruling is just one step towards progress for LGTBQ+ rights.

“It is just the beginning of the progress yet to be made on the important issue of equal protection,” Nessel said. “The Supreme Court’s decision, although groundbreaking, is relatively narrow. It involves only a federal law — Title VII — not state law. And the decision applies only to employment decisions. The Court left for another day decisions regarding housing, education, public accommodations, and anything else of the kind. And it left to future cases how religious liberty doctrines interact with Title VII. What this means is that we must continue to work together for equal protection under the law for all Michiganders.”

Daily Staff Reporter Delaney Dahlstrom can be reached at delaneyn@umich.edu