For Pride Month, the AFL-CIO is spotlighting various LGBTQ Americans who have worked and continue to work at the intersection of civil and labor rights. Our first profile this year is the three plaintiffs in the 2020 Supreme Court cases that led to the landmark decision protecting the workplace rights of LGBTQ Americans: Aimee Stephens, Gerald Lynn Bostock and Donald Zarda.
Aimee Stephens was a funeral director at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Michigan. When hired, Stephens lived and presented as a man. When she informed the owner and operator of the funeral home that she intended to transition from male to female, Stephens was fired. Stephens filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleging unlawful discrimination. The EEOC investigated and filed a lawsuit. The case was originally decided in favor of the funeral home but was overturned on appeal and made its way to the Supreme Court.
Gerald Lynn Bostock, a gay man, worked for the Juvenile Court of Clayton County, Georgia. He began participating in a gay recreational softball league. His participation in the league was criticized, and several months later an internal audit was conducted to look into Bostock's program. He was fired for conduct "unbecoming of a county employee." Bostock sued the county, claiming he was fired because he was gay. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia dismissed the complaint, but Bostock's appeal was upheld and the divided rulings led the case to be heard by the Supreme Court.
Donald Zarda, a gay man, worked as a skydiving instructor at Altitude Express in New York. Zarda was fired after he informed a client that he was gay and she complained to management. Zarda was fired, and he alleged that he was fired because of his sexuality. He sued, but the District Court rejected his claim. He appealed and the initial ruling was overturned. Altitude Express appealed.
The three cases were combined and this week the Supreme Court sided with the LGBTQ workers, saying that firing them because of their sexuality was a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Pride At Work Executive Director Jerame Davis called the ruling "a huge win for equality." He continued:
Today, the Court recognized that discrimination based on someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity is rooted in sex discrimination. The approximately 11.5 million LGB people and 1.5 million transgender people in the United States are now protected from discrimination in workplaces across the country. While many lower courts already have recognized that, we now have clarity from the highest court in the land.
The Supreme Court extended protections to millions of LGBTQ Americans because three individuals—Aimee Stephens, Gerald Lynn Bostock and Donald Zarda—faced discrimination and refused to accept it. That's the type of courage that Pride Month celebrates.