Why the Supreme Court Ruling on LGBTQ Workplace Protections Is a ‘Watershed Moment’

The late Aimee Stephens, seated, and her wife Donna Stephens, in pink, listen during a news conference outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2019. Aimee Stephens lost her job when she told Thomas Rost, owner of the Detroit-area R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, that she had struggled with gender identity issues almost her whole life. Chase Strangio, listening at right, is an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union who will be argues in the Harris Funeral Homes case on behalf of Aimee Stephens. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

By Billy Ball

June 15, 2020

The ruling protects LGBTQ people from being fired based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Two of the US Supreme Court’s most conservative justices joined with liberals to rule that federal laws protect LGBTQ employees from being fired because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, The Washington Post reported Monday morning.

In a statement Monday morning, Kendra Johnson, executive director of the advocacy group Equality NC, called the ruling a “watershed moment for the LGBTQ community all across America and holds more significance than the marriage equality rulings of several years ago.”

“The Court’s decision will directly impact millions of people across the country and allow them to both live authentically in the workplace and care for their families with respect and dignity,” Johnson said.

Social media was rife with reactions in and outside NC to the Supreme Court ruling Monday, which came as a surprise given the conservative leanings of the high court. 

Gorsuch, an appointee of President Trump, wrote the landmark decision. 

“Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear,” Gorsuch wrote. “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.”

The case’s plaintiff, the late Aimee Stephens, filed suit against her Michigan employer when they fired her shortly after she told her workplace that she was transitioning from male to female. 

As The Post noted, Stephens died in May after seeing her case argued last year at the Supreme Court.

It is the first LGBTQ ruling since Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement. Kennedy had written all of the court’s majority opinions in cases advancing LGBTQ rights. 

Despite the ruling, Johnson of Equality NC said there is more work to do in the LGBTQ movement, noting House Bill 142, the repeal of House Bill 2, remains in effect. That law placed a moratorium in law with respect to local anti-discrimination ordinances. 

“There are still shocking and critical gaps in our nondiscrimination laws, particularly in housing, public places, federal programs and more,” Johnson said. “LGBTQ people face harassment and mistreatment in their daily lives and black and brown LGBTQ trans people face even higher rates of discrimination and, oftentimes, violence.”


  • Billy Ball

    Billy Ball is Cardinal & Pine's senior community editor. He’s covered local, state and national politics, government, education, criminal justice, the environment and immigration in North Carolina for almost two decades, winning state, regional and national awards for his reporting and commentary.

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