US: Testing Title VII

SINCE 2015, same-sex couples have had a constitutional right to marry—yet Americans still enjoy no federal protection from workplace discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation or transgender identity. In some two dozen states that do not have their own civil-rights umbrella for LGBT people, a gay employee can return to the office from his honeymoon and be fired. Transgender people, too, have no recourse in these states when their bosses fire or demote them for presenting themselves as their preferred gender […]

When the cases come up for argument, the main quandary will concern how to interpret three words Congress wrote over a half-century ago: “because of sex”. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bars employers from discriminating against a worker “because of such individual’s race, colour, religion, sex, or national origin”. The question is whether skipping over a gay worker for a promotion or firing her on the basis of her sexual orientation amounts to discrimination “because of sex”—and whether similar treatment of trans people fits that bill.  

[…] More than two decades ago, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote a unanimous majority opinion in Oncale v Sundowner Offshore Services, Inc vindicating another claim that never crossed the minds of the mid-century legislators: a male employee’s right not to be harassed at work. Sexual harassment of men may not have been among the evils members of Congress thought they were combating when they drafted the Civil Rights Act, but the workplace harm is “reasonably comparable” to others Congress was thinking of. What should matter for a textualist are the words in the statute, not the motivations of its authors. “It is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators”, Mr Scalia wrote, “by which we are governed”.  Read more via the Economist