US: Supreme Court divided on LGBT employment protection; Gorsuch could be key

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday appeared closely divided over whether a landmark federal law forbidding sex discrimination in the workplace protects gay and transgender employees, with conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch emerging as a potential decisive vote.

The nine justices heard two hours of high-profile arguments in three cases that could broaden LGBT rights involving three workers - two gay and one transgender - who sued after being fired by their employers, claiming unlawful discrimination. The Supreme Court has never ruled on transgender rights.

The court’s four liberal justices signaled agreement towards arguments by the plaintiffs that gay and transgender workers are covered under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex as well as race, colour, national origin and religion.

Some of the court’s five conservative justices appeared sceptical, but Gorsuch, a conservative appointed by President Donald Trump, asked several questions indicating potential sympathy for the plaintiffs’ claims.

Gorsuch suggested that sex, as defined in the law, can be a contributing factor to someone being fired based on their sexual orientation. “Sexual orientation is surely in play here. But isn’t sex also in play here?,” Gorsuch asked, adding, “And isn’t that enough?” Read more via Reuters