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Supreme Court Ruling on LGBTQ Workers Highlights Gaps in Arizona Law

The U.S. Supreme Court
The U.S. Supreme Court Jarek Tuszyñski/Wikipedia Commons
In a groundbreaking decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday morning that federal law protects gay, lesbian, and transgender workers from discrimination in the workplace. The ruling has added significance in Arizona, which still lacks similar protections on a state level.

The 6-3 opinion, which was authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch — a Trump nominee — was unequivocal that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which established federal protections against discrimination based on race, religion, sex, and national origin, also covers gender identity and sexual orientation. The case itself, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, stemmed from a county employee who was fired for conduct "unbecoming" after the employee participated in a gay softball league.

"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," Gorsuch wrote. "Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids."

"It’s a historic win, a historic moment that affirms what our organization and movement has been fighting for for decades." - Michael Soto, executive director of Equality Arizona

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In essence, the court said that civil-rights law prohibits employers from firing or not hiring people because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, and provides legal recourse through federal courts or the Equal Opportunities Commission if people are discriminated against on those grounds.

"It’s a historic win, a historic moment that affirms what our organization and movement has been fighting for for decades," Michael Soto, executive director of Equality Arizona, a nonprofit LGTBQ advocacy group, told New Times. "It’s the first explicit federal recognition of that protection."

"This is certainly a wonderful affirmation that LGBTQ people should be protected in the workplace and all other aspects of life," he added. "We want everyone to be who they are, to live authentically, and contribute productively to Arizona’s economy and society."

The ruling adds clarity to Arizona's existing patchwork of LGBTQ discrimination protections. While cities like Phoenix, Tucson, and Tempe have their own ordinances banning LGBTQ discrimination in employment and other areas, such as housing, the state lacks any equivalent laws. And past bills introduced to the Republican-controlled Arizona State Legislature that would create statewide protections have gone nowhere.

"There is still no statewide protection," Soto said. "We still have to fight for a comprehensive non-discrimination policy here in Arizona."

"Now we have federal protection just in the workplace. But what we’re fighting for, and want to see at the end of the day, is an update to the civil rights act and statewide protection that protects sexual and gender identity that covers healthcare, housing," he added.

Other local LGBTQ advocacy groups echoed similar sentiment, calling on lawmakers to pass statewide non-discrimination protections.

“With today’s vital decision, the Court has backed up its prior ruling by ensuring that LGBTQ individuals have the same access to equal employment as everyone else, and further affirming under the law that queer Americans are equal to all other Americans and should enjoy the same rights, freedoms and access to opportunity as everyone else," Phoenix Pride said in statement. “We are proud that these rights have already existed for nearly a decade in the City of Phoenix, even as the State of Arizona has failed to recognize and protect these rights at the state level. Today’s ruling should be a loud clarion call to the members and leaders of the Arizona Legislature that it is time to enshrine these same protections in statute, so that we can be a state that is truly open and welcoming to everyone."
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Josh Kelety is a staff writer at Phoenix New Times. Previously, he worked as a reporter for the Inlander and Seattle Weekly.
Contact: Josh Kelety