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Bostock v. Clayton County and the United State Supreme Court’s Individual v. Group Analysis


Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia

On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. In the opinion, the Court held that “[a]n 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.” As a result, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), now protects homosexual and transgender employees from sex discrimination in the workplace. In reaching this conclusion, the Court addressed whether the discrimination analysis under Title VII should be individually or group focused.

Analysis of Title VII Cases

In Bostock, the Court stated that “[d]iscrimination sometimes involves ‘the act, practice, or an instance of discriminating categorically rather than individually. . . On that understanding, [Title VII] would require us to consider the employer’s treatment of groups rather than individuals, to see how a policy affects one sex as a whole versus the other as a whole.” The Court then posed the question: “So how can we tell which sense, individual or group, ‘discriminate’ carries in Title VII?”

In answering this question, the Court pointed to the actual statutory language. Title VII states that an employer cannot “fail or refuse to hire or . . . discharge any individuals, or otherwise . . . discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s . . . sex.” The Court further stated that, if Congress had intended a “group” focus, they could have written the law in such a manner as to shift the analysis to groups or classes of individuals rather than a focus on the individual. However, as Congress appeared to have written Title VII with the focus on the individual, the Court adhered to this interpretation.

Illustration of the Group v. Individual Analysis

After articulating its explanation, the Court provided an example to bolster the group v. individual analysis:

Suppose an employer fires a woman for refusing his sexual advances. It’s no defense for the employer to note that, while he treated that individual woman worse than he would have treated a man, he gives preferential treatment to female employees overall. The employer is liable for treating this woman worse in part because of her sex. Nor is it a defense for an employer to say it discriminates against both men and women because of sex. This statute works to protect individuals of both sexes from discrimination, and does so equally. So an employer who fires a woman, Hannah, because she is insufficiently feminine and also fires a man, Bob, for being insufficiently masculine may treat men and women as groups more or less equally. But in both cases the employer fires an individual in part because of sex.

Therefore, based upon the Court’s explanation and example, Title VII likely requires an individualized approach, rather than a focus on a group or class of people.

If you feel your rights under Title VII have been violated, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced Birmingham employment law attorneys at Michel | King. You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 319- 9724. We are here to serve you.

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