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June 2020: "Amicus" Brief Supports Historic Title VII Victory for LGBT Workers

July 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court recently issued a historic decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination “because of … sex,” necessarily prohibits discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees.  The decision was a win for gay and transgender individuals who had challenged their terminations under Title VII in a trio of cases, and settled the question that had divided  lower courts and the EEOC about whether discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status is a form of sex discrimination.  

In support of the LGBT employees, Quinn Emanuel filed an amicus brief on behalf of over 200 corporations, ranging from classic companies like AIG, American Express, Cisco, Coca-Cola, Gucci, IBM, Morgan Stanley, Nike, Pfizer, Starbucks and Xerox to newer companies like Airbnb, Citrix, eBay, Google, PayPal, Salesforce and Vimeo.  The corporations signing the brief collectively employ over 7 million employees and produce over $5 trillion in annual revenue. 

The corporations informed the Supreme Court that ending sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in the workplace is good for business, employees and the U.S. economy as a whole.  The brief argued that no one should be passed over for a job, paid less, fired or subjected to harassment or any other form of employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity, and emphasized the benefits of a uniform federal civil rights law against such discrimination, especially for businesses that necessarily work across state lines.


The amicus brief was singled out by the New York Times for its notable and influential role in the case.  As veteran Supreme Court commentator Linda Greenhouse observed, “More than 200 major employers told the justices in a brief they filed on behalf of the gay and transgender plaintiffs that a quiet revolution is taking place with the stamp of approval of the establishment of which they are a part.”  

In the June 15, 2020 decision authored by Justice Gorsuch and joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII’s use of the word “sex” necessarily includes sexual orientation and gender identity in its scope.  In the Court’s words, “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”  The Court therefore concluded:  “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling makes discrimination against LGBT persons by employers covered by Title VII illegal across the nation, and may have beneficial implications for LGBT rights in other contexts such as healthcare, housing and education, where multiple federal laws also prohibit sex discrimination.