The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into legislation to counteract and provide legal standing against the rampant discrimination found within the United States in the 1960s. Most people in the United States understand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be the culmination of the Civil Rights Movement that took place in the 1960s—this is only partially true.
In 1964, racial discrimination was at the forefront of U.S. politics. The issue of racial discrimination permeated so many facets of American life; voting, using public accommodations, public education, using federal assistance programs, and opportunity of employment were all parts of American life that were plagued by racial discrimination.
Luckily, legislators had the foresight to understand that the issue of discrimination applies more broadly than to just the topic of race. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed any discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is specifically concerned with employment discrimination. This portion of the 1964 Act prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin. Within the category of “sex,” historically speaking, Title VII has been applied to cases concerning sexual harassment and gender stereotyping. Sexual harassment and gender stereotyping have been defined as discrimination based on sex. Until recently, employees were not protected against discrimination pertaining to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia
On June 15th, 2020 two historic cases were decided by the United States Supreme Court. Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia determined that sexual orientation is covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The case came to spotlight when Gerald Bostock, a gay man from Clayton County, Georgia, began participating in a recreational softball league that catered to the local gay community.
Bostock was employed by the county of Clayton as a child welfare service coordinator. Despite receiving numerous positive performance evaluations, he was met with disparaging remarks from coworkers, even in the face of a supervisor. The disparaging remarks from coworkers started occurring after Bostock’s coworkers learned about his sexual orientation and participation in the recreational softball league for the gay community.
Around the same time, Clayton County officials informed Bostock that the county would be conducting an internal audit on the funds for programs he managed. Shortly thereafter, Bostock was fired for “conduct unbecoming of its employees.” In a 6-3 majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch writes, “[a]n employer who fires an individual employee for merely being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
Concurrently, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that gender identity, including transgender individuals, is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This case was granted cert when Aimee Stephens—now deceased—was fired from her position as a funeral director after revealing to her employer, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc., that she was transgender.
When Stephens was hired by the funeral home, she presented herself as a male which, by her account, caused her a great deal of emotional stress. In 2014, Stephens underwent reassignment surgery to aid her transition to expressing herself as a woman. Prior to the surgery, Stephens wrote her employers to inform them that she would use her vacation time to recover from the surgery and that she would return to the funeral home no longer presenting as a man, but as a woman.
Two weeks later, Stephens received a letter in the mail letting her know that she was no longer employed by the company. The Supreme Court considered whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination against transgender people based on (1) their status as transgender or (2) sex stereotyping as defined under Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989).
Ultimately, in an opinion written by Justice Gorsuch, the Court held that, “[a]n employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” mirroring the same conclusion reached in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia.
Contact an Employment Lawyer Today
If you believe that you have experienced discrimination in your place of work, you may have state and federal law protections available to you. Contact an employment lawyer to discuss your case today.