Updated: Jan 25
What is Employment Discrimination?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission states that employment discrimination involves the unequal treatment, harassment, denial of a reasonable workplace change, improper questions regarding disclosure, or retaliation on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, disability, age (age 40 or older), or genetic information.” While it may seem like a victory that should’ve been granted years ago, it was just as recently as June 2020 that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects employees that identify as part of the LGBTQ community from discrimination based on sex. The 6-3 ruling was an enormous victory for the LGBTQ community, especially in light of the presidential administration, led by President Donald Trump, siding with employers who were said to be discriminating against employees due to their identity. This win comes after a long and hard battle of employment discrimination that has affected the LGBTQ community for years. Historically, homosexuality, along with other sexual and gender identities, has been used as justification for firing individuals and discriminating against them in the hiring process by giving the job to another candidate instead despite other qualifications. The list of instances where individuals were discriminated against in the workforce solely due to their LGBTQ identity is a long and tiring one involving a plethora of court cases and governmental acts. The LGBTQ+ community has continuously fought for years for protections in the workplace, and even in light of recent victories, the fight is far from over.
April 1953: President Dwight D. Eisenhower passed an executive order stating that gay people were banned from holding federal positions. Under this order, homosexuality was placed under the category of sexual perversion. Eisenhower’s executive order was in place for nearly 20 years.
July 1975: A bill was introduced by the federal government that would prohibit any form of discrimination based on sexual orientation. This was the first introduced bill of its kind. Unfortunately, it was never placed under consideration by the judiciary committee. However, homosexual workers were no longer instantly declined from federal positions.
February 1994: Clinton passed the DADT (Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell) act, which allowed gay men and women to remain in the military as long as they kept their sexuality hidden. Despite its intentions to protect, it resulted in tens of thousands of people losing their position.
September 2011: President Barack Obama took action to repeal DADT (Don’t Ask Don’t Tell). While its repeal was beneficial, close to 12,000 individuals who were in the military were discharged after they made the decision to not suppress and hide their sexuality. March 2020: The staff of the White House passed a policy that prohibited transgender individuals from serving in the U.S. Military. Their argument on the permissibility of this policy was that the treatments transgender individuals receive, such as hormone therapy, may hinder their ability to serve and impact their readiness and ability to complete their duties. June 2020: The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects employees that identify as part of the LGBTQ community from discrimination based on sex. The ruling won with a 6-3 majority in favor of protecting LGBTQ+ individuals in the workplace. The ruling of Bostock v Clayton County was, therefore, a huge win as the LGBTQ community’s employment rights are now included in the protections of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which also protects people on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and ethnicity. Bostock was a gay man working in Clayton County. He received great reviews and evaluations while working as a child welfare service coordinator. After years of working for the company, Bostock became involved in a gay softball league which was looked down upon by his employees. While in a meeting, a colleague of his mentioned sexuality in front of the supervisor of the company. Shortly after, Bostock received word from the county that he had been fired for “conduct unbecoming of its employees.” Bostock filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Committee (EEOC) claiming that he faced discrimination from the county on the basis of his sexual orientation. After appealing through multiple courts, his case was finally heard by the Supreme Court, which ruled in Bostock's favor.
While this timeline comes nowhere near close to documenting the vast number of individuals who have experienced employment discrimination, it highlights some of the major instances and decisions pertaining to the subject. Not long ago, employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity was prohibited and recognized by the Supreme Court. But this does not mean the struggle is over and that these biases no longer exist.