The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday that existing federal anti-discrimination laws protect gay and transgender employees, will have “monumental” implications for the protection of members of the LGBTQ community from workplace discrimination, said Jason Landau Goodman, executive director of the Pennsylvania Youth Congress.
But the decision highlights the need for the state to approve LGBTQ protections as well, Goodman said.
“This historic victory is a landmark moment for LGBTQ Americans, who have been advocating for decades to live and work with dignity in our nation. The Supreme Court’s decision guarantees basic workplace protections to millions of LGBTQ Americans so they can work and take care of their families during this time of a national crisis,” Goodman said.
The Pennsylvania Youth Congress has been leading lobbying efforts to have LGBTQ protections enshrined in state law.
Pennsylvania still doesn’t protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination in other circumstances, including housing or in public accommodation.
“LGBTQ Americans have awaited this win for generations. Although this groundbreaking decision will help countless LGBTQ people, we have significant work to do in order to ensure all LGBTQ people have basic protections from violence and discrimination in both housing and public places as well,” Goodman said.
“LGBTQ people are being judged because of who they love, not by the quality of their work by employers,” said Naiymah Sanchez, Trans Justice Coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania.
“They are being judged by attributes that are no one else’s business,” Sanchez said.
Goodman said the need for state protections goes beyond employment.
Without them, “we can still be denied service at a restaurant,” or refused housing, “which is unconscionable” Goodman said.
The court decided by a 6-3 vote that a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 known as Title VII that bars job discrimination because of sex, among other reasons, encompasses bias against LGBTQ workers.
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Justice Neil Gorsuch, a Trump appointee, wrote for the court. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Justices Samuel Alito, Brett Kavanaugh and Clarence Thomas dissented.
“The Court tries to convince readers that it is merely enforcing the terms of the statute, but that is preposterous,” Alito wrote in the dissent. “Even as understood today, the concept of discrimination because of ‘sex’ is different from discrimination because of ‘sexual orientation’ or ‘gender identity.’”
Kavanaugh wrote in a separate dissent that the court was rewriting the law to include gender identity and sexual orientation, a job that belongs to Congress. Still, Kavanaugh said the decision represents an “important victory achieved today by gay and lesbian Americans.”
The outcome is expected to have a big impact for the estimated 8.1 million LGBTQ workers across the country because most states don’t protect them from workplace discrimination. An estimated 11.3 million LGBTQ people live in the U.S., according to the UCLA law school’s Williams Institute.
State Sen Patrick Browne, R-Lehigh County, has sponsored legislation that would protect members of the LGBTQ community from discrimination in employment, housing or public accommodations. Browne, R-Lehigh County is chairman of the Senate appropriations committee.
Pennsylvania is the only state in the northeast that does not provide state-level protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, he said.
More than 50 municipalities have passed local anti-discrimination ordinances, but without statewide protection, the threat of discrimination varies based on ZIP code, Goodman said.
Among neighboring states, Ohio and West Virginia don’t have state-level protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, according to Family Equality, a New York-based advocacy group.
Gov. Tom Wolf said that the economy and individual businesses will be benefit if workers who are LGBTQ are protected from discrimination.
“America has suffered for too long from unscrupulous, discriminatory employment practices that prevent certain individuals from participating fully and equally in the workforce,” he said. “This ruling is a cause for celebration, but it is also a reminder that there is still work to be done in ensuring every American and every Pennsylvanian has equality.”
In February, state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Washington County, said she supports Browne’s legislation and intends to see that it passes in the Senate Labor and Industry committee, which she chairs.
Goodman said the legislation stalled when the coronavirus pandemic hit and took all the attention away from other issues at the Capitol.
He said that as the state begins to reopen and state lawmakers begin to turn their attention to other issues, he hopes that lawmakers begin to move the legislation to protect those in the LGBTQ community from discrimination.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro called Monday’s ruling “a landmark decision” that makes clear that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is unacceptable.
“It has taken too long, but I am glad the court has made clear that no one should be discriminated against at work for who they are or who they love,” Shapiro said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.