The headlines are all about the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of an anti-gay baker, but there are some other notable cases the Court is due to consider.
On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of an anti-gay baker in Colorado who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
While debate almost immediately ensued over whether the decision was a defeat for LGBT equality, the narrow ruling appeared tailored to the case before the court and not a license to use religion as a basis to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
But neither does it address the discrimination millions of LGBTQ Americans still face.
There are, however, two new LGBTQ-related civil rights cases before the Court that could reverse hard-won victories before two different federal circuit courts of appeal.
Attorneys representing a New York parachuting business have filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, seeking to reverse a Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling that the company’s firing of an openly gay employee was a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The court wrote in Zarda v. Altitude Express that “sexual orientation is a function of sex,” because sexual orientation can’t be adequately defined without acknowledging a person’s sex.
The anti-LGBT group Alliance Defending Freedom has asked the court for extra time to file its appeal in Stephens v. Harris Funeral, in which a three-judge panel on the Sixth Circuit ruled that “sex” discrimination prohibited by Title VII also prohibits “transgender” discrimination. Justice Elena Kagan gave the Alliance a deadline of August 3 to file its appeal.
The Stephens case focuses on whether “transgender” can be read into Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination on “based on sex,” and whether the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission — which recommended a ruling in favor of a transgender employee — is the proper respondent.
If the court rules in favor of the Commission as respondent, it will be up to the Trump administration to decide whether the federal government will defend the recommendation.
Currently, only 21 states have laws that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in public or private employment. Twenty-nine states have no laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination in private employment.
A Supreme Court ruling that Title VII includes sexual orientation would protect LGBTQ Americans in every state against discrimination in public and private employment. Just like that, millions of Americans could gain protection against discrimination.
The Court’s interpretation of Title VII could also impact how lower courts interpret laws against “sex” discrimination under federal laws like as Title IX of the Education Amendments Act, the Fair Housing Act, and the Affordable Care Act.
The Court could also refuse to hear either or both of the two cases, in which case the appeals courts’ ruling would stand. But we’ll have to wait until September or October to find out if the Court will accept one, both, or neither of the cases.