U.S. Supreme Court rules on Title VII and sexual orientation, and the U.S. Forest Service’s authority to grant rights-of-way

The U.S. Supreme Court issued two opinions in five cases. In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia (consolidated with Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC), SCOTUS ruled “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates” Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The three cases questioned whether sexual orientation and gender identity were included in Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination “because of … sex.”

In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the 11th Circuit held that sexual orientation was not a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. In Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, the 2nd Circuit and 6th Circuit, respectively, held that sexual orientation was a form of sex discrimination under Title VII.

In a 6-3 ruling, the court reversed the 11th Circuit and affirmed the 2nd and 6th Circuits. Writing for the majority, Justice Neil Gorsuch argued, “Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

Justice Samuel Alito filed a dissenting opinion, joined by Justice Clarence Thomas. Justice Brett Kavanaugh also filed a dissenting opinion.

United States Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association (consolidated with Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC v. Cowpasture River Preservation Association) concerned whether the U.S. Forest Service had the authority to grant rights-of-way through lands traversed by the Appalachian Trail within national forests. In a 7-2 opinion, the court reversed the 4th Circuit’s judgment, holding the Forest Service does have authority to grant rights-of-way. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion.

In his opinion, Justice Thomas wrote, “We conclude that the lands that the Trail crosses remain under the Forest Service’s jurisdiction and, thus, continue to be ‘Federal lands’ under the [Mineral] Leasing Act.” Justice Sonia Sotomayor, joined by Justice Elena Kagan, dissented.

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About the author

Sara Reynolds

Sara Reynolds is a staff writer at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

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