As I write this, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has been hearing cases and debating whether or not LGBTQ+ people come under Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that would protect them from being fired because of their gender identity or sexuality.
This is a huge ruling that could enshrine employment safety into law and create legal, equal footing for all workers no matter their sexual orientation or identity. I had incorrectly assumed that America was already leading the way in the world with this kind of anti-discrimination legislation, but sadly, I was completely wrong.
And while I’m hopeful that SCOTUS will rule to protect our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, I don’t believe it will stop discriminatory employers from forcing people out of work for those reasons — or any reason for that matter — because having your right to provide a decent life for yourself or your family and having your livelihood safeguarded is already uncertain here.
The U.S. operates under what is called ‘At-Will Employment’ which essentially means that an employer can terminate you without warning, at any time and for no reason. They can’t fire an employee for an illegal reason — such as filing a complaint, reporting a health and safety violation or for being pregnant, for example — but if an employer doesn’t actually have to provide a reason without facing any legal liability then what’s to stop them from firing you for being LGBTQ+ anyway?
I’m not a lawyer, but as a lay person and as a trans woman, I couldn’t get over the ridiculousness of the whole thing. Arguments for the case were kept to an hour — an hour to argue over the lives of nearly every trans person alive today. And what was the discussion about? Not the inherent right for an American to fairly make a living, not about the harms visited on a marginalized community by decades of discrimination. But instead, where we pee. | Katelyn Burns – Vox
If an employer can terminate you just because they feel like it then there is no way to actively protect anyone from any injustice of this kind. ’At-Will Employment’, essentially, could act as a legal, discriminatory loophole — in fact, I’m pretty sure it already does.
There are unions and some common law exemptions to ‘At-Will Employment’ that are related to public policy, implied contract, and the implied covenant of good faith — you can read more about this here — but if LGBTQ+ employment discrimination isn’t made explicitly illegal by this impending SCOTUS ruling, then even statutory exemptions against illegal discrimination, in theory, may not provide much security.
Having equal protections enshrined into law for all its people is where America should already be. This country and those who make the laws by which we abide have to live up to the equity and liberation that is so readily embraced and touted as uniquely American. If this really is the land of the free then placing any exemptions on that freedom is decidedly un-American.
What do you think about the Supreme Court debating this issue? Do you think LGBTQ+ employees should be protected under Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Is it time to get rid of ‘At-Will Employment’?
Further Information & How To Help:
All We Want Is Equality – Human Rights Watch