The Supreme Court has accepted a case that could determine whether members of the LGBTQ community are entitled to federal job protections, AP reports.
The justices will hear arguments from arising from three cases involving alleged job discrimination against gay, lesbian, and transgender workers. Those cases include a New York skydiving instructor and a Georgia county government employee who allege they were fired for being gay, and a Michigan transgender woman who was fired from the funeral home where she had worked for six years, after she transitioned.
The cases made their way to the Supreme Court because of a divide among the lower courts over Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination on the bases of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. It does not specifically address sexual orientation or gender identity.
Courts disagree in their interpretations of the law and its protections: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York, and the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago, have ruled that sexual orientation is protected by federal law. However, the 11th Circuit, based in Atlanta, has said sexual orientation may not be a protected class.
As for transgender protections, the 6th Circuit, based in Cincinnati, has said transgender people are protected. However, last year, the Department of Justice told the Supreme Court that federal law does not shield transgender workers from discrimination on the basis of their gender identity, a position that conflicts with the view of the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.
In a setback for gay rights in 2017, the Supreme Court refused to consider a case from a Georgia woman who alleged she was fired from her job because of her sexuality. Now that Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court’s frequent swing vote and author of several landmark gay rights decisions, has retired, it’s unclear how the court will rule. If the court finds in the challengers’ favor, it would mark an important step to protect the LGBT community from discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and ensure equal protection for all under the law.