On October 8, 2019, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in three landmark LGBTQ+ rights cases, which could broaden protections for the LGBTQ+ community by prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation, transgender-status, or gender identity under federal law. Currently, conflicting federal cases and shifts in interpretation and policies at administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Department of Justice have left employers without clear guidance on what is, or is not, protected at a federal level (separate and apart from state and local protections). In Altitude Express v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, since consolidated, the Court will consider whether the prohibition on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, the Court will consider whether Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people. The cases are summarized below.
Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda / Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia – factual background
Donald Zarda worked as a skydiving instructor for Altitude Express, Inc., responsible for taking clients on tandem skydives, strapped hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder to the client. In June 2010, while carrying out a tandem skydiving session with a young woman, Zarda stated he was gay in defense of a female client’s allegation that he touched her inappropriately. Altitude Express terminated Zarda’s employment on the grounds that he shared inappropriate information with clients regarding his personal life. After a three-judge panel ruled against Zarda, the Second Circuit, in an en banc decision, overturned the lower court, holding that discrimination based on sexual orientation violates Title VII.