Ruling could bring change to Florida
LGBTQ leaders call on DeSantis to act against workplace discrimination
A watershed U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Monday declared discrimination against gay and transgender workers illegal, signaling what Florida advocates hope will be a tipping point after a decade of state lawmakers blocking efforts to prohibit such intolerance.
The state’s LGBTQ civil rights leaders likened the magnitude of the decision to the court’s marriage equality ruling in 2015 and called on Gov. Ron DeSantis to act by executive order to outlaw workplace discrimination in Florida.
“This is a tall, cool drink of water in the midst of the difficult work for equity and justice in America,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, the statewide LGBTQ civil rights organization. “The U.S Supreme Court has affirmed in the clearest language possible that sex discrimination includes sexual orientation and gender identity. And, now, it’s time for Florida to make explicit those protections in our state statutes.”
The Supreme Court voted 6-3, ruling that a key provision of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — known as Title VII — that makes it illegal to fire or refuse to hire a worker on the basis of sex also applies to sexual orientation and gender identity.
Justice Neil Gorsuch and Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. joined liberal justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan in the 6 to 3 ruling. Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito Jr. and Brett Kavanaugh dissented.
Given the court’s conservative majority, including two appointments by President Donald Trump, the ruling surprised some observers.
“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,” wrote Gorsuch, President Donald Trump’s first nominee to the Supreme Court. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Advocates contend the ruling is particularly significant because of its wording, which they said will open the door to other rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community.
“The court has decisively said that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is sex discrimination, and the implications for that are broad and they go beyond even employment,” said Florida Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando. “We also have to make sure we extend those protections in other categories, such as housing, public accommodations, even health care.”
Monday’s ruling comes just three days after the Trump administration rolled back Obamaera nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people when it
“This is a tall, cool drink of water in the midst of the difficult work for equity and justice in America.” Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida
comes to health care and health insurance. The changes are expected to specifically impact people who are transgender.
“It has been a really difficult last few years under the Trump administration,” said Brandon Wolf, development officer for Equality Florida in the greater Central Florida region. “There have been assaults on the LGBTQ community as recently as Friday. … I’m feeling a bit a relief today that some functions of our government are still able to operate independently from … the Trump administration.”
The effort to broaden LGBTQ protections have not fared well in the Florida Legislature in recent years, either. For more than a decade, advocates have tried to push through the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act banning discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, pregnancy, national origin, age, handicap or marital status.”
The bill has failed every year. Earlier this year, the proposal died in the House Civil Justice Subcommittee and was indefinitely postponed and withdrawn from consideration in the Senate — despite being supported by a coalition of 450 Florida businesses, including Disney, Darden, AT&T and Florida Blue.
“So this ruling doesn’t minimize the work we still have to do legislatively,” Smith said. “We still need to pass that Florida Competitive Workforce Act to codify not only the protections addressed by the Supreme Court ruling but in other areas as well.”
Equality Florida leaders said they plan to back such legislation again next session but said that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis could issue an executive order before then to grant equal protections.
“The governor should very clearly state that in areas of state law where sex discrimination is prohibited, that that protection also extends to LGBTQ people,” Wolf said. “He should take this opportunity to lead and to make those protections clear.”
The governor’s office declined to comment specifically on that request, but a spokesperson said “the Supreme Court has determined that this is the law of the land and it will be respected in Florida.”
Some 60% of jurisdictions in the state — including the city of Orlando and Orange County — already offer civil rights protections to LGBTQ residents. Despite that, George Wallace, executive director of The Center Orlando, an LGBTQ advocacy group and social services provider, said his agency still receives regular complaints about job discrimination.
“We get a lot of calls on this and people need referrals to the LGBT lawyer association,” Wallace said. “But unfortunately, a lot of times the outcome is, ‘Well, they really didn’t do anything illegal.’ Until today, it was legal to be fired for being gay in 21 states, so this [ruling] is a big deal. It’s right up there with marriage equality.”
The Supreme Court’s decision stemmed from cases involving two gay men and a transgender woman who sued for employment discrimination after they lost their jobs.
The federal appeals court in New York ruled in favor of a gay skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, who claimed he was fired because of his sexual orientation. Zarda died in Switzerland in 2014.
In a case from Georgia, the federal appeals court in Atlanta ruled against Gerald Bostock, a gay employee of Clayton County, in the Atlanta suburbs. Bostock claimed he was fired in 2013 because he is gay. The county argues that Bostock was let go because of the results of an audit of funds he managed.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed Bostock’s claim in a threepage opinion that noted the court was bound by a 1979 decision that held “discharge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.”
Aimee Stephens lost her job as a funeral director in the Detroit area after she revealed to her boss she had struggled with gender most of her life and had, at long last, “decided to become the person that my mind already is.” Stephens told funeral home owner Thomas Rost that, following a vacation, she would report to work wearing a conservative skirt suit or dress that Rost required for women who worked at his three funeral homes. Rost fired Stephens.
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati ruled that the firing constituted sex discrimination under federal law.
Joseph Fons holds a pride flag in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building after the court ruled Monday that LGBTQ people cannot be disciplined or fired based on their sexual orientation.
A visitor pays respects Friday at the Pulse Interim Memorial on the fourth anniversary of the nightclub massacre.