In a groundbreaking victory for LGBTQ workers, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that employers can’t fire people merely for being gay or transgender. And the 6-3 decision was written by a surprising author: Trump nominee and diehard conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch.
The Monday decision stemmed from three cases brought by LGBTQ employees who had been fired from their workplaces due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. All three asked the justices to consider whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which blocks workplace discrimination “because of sex,” also protects LGBTQ employees — even though the law was likely never meant to include gay or trans people.
“Those who adopted the Civil Rights Act might not have anticipated their work would lead to this particular result,” Gorsuch wrote in the court’s majority opinion, which fellow conservative Chief Justice John Roberts joined. “But the limits of the drafters’ imagination supply no reason to ignore the law’s demands.”
“Only the written word is the law, and all persons are entitled to its benefit.”
In his 29-page opinion, Gorsuch ran through the history of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and insisted that the Supreme Court’s decision involves “no more than the straightforward application of legal terms with plain and settled meanings.”
“For an employer to discriminate against employees for being homosexual or transgender, the employer must intentionally discriminate against individual men and women in part because of sex,” Gorsuch wrote. “That has always been prohibited by Title VII’s plain terms.”
It was a surprising turn for Gorsuch, the first Supreme Court nominee to be opposed by Lambda Legal, the oldest national group that fights for LGBTQ people’s civil rights, before even undergoing a confirmation hearing. He has also previously championed corporations’ rights to fire their workers: In one infamous case, he wrote a dissenting opinion arguing that it was not illegal for a company to fire a driver who’d left his truckload behind rather than freeze to death.