By Alex Jokich
A landmark ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court Monday will provide protections to an estimated eight million workers who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.
In a six-three ruling, the justices decided employers cannot discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity, meaning they cannot fire or refuse to hire an LGBT worker.
It is being hailed as the most consequential decision since June of 2015, when the court legalized same-sex marriage.
"People within the gay rights movement will often talk about the anomaly of 'You can get married to your same-sex partner on Sunday and then be fired at work for doing so on a Monday,'" said Jill Hasday, a constitutional law and anti-discrimination law expert at the University of Minnesota Law School. "So the law did have this unevenness."
Even though it is a nationally significant ruling, it will not change much here in Minnesota, where some of the strongest civil rights laws in the country are already in place.
Minnesota was the first state to ban employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation back in 1993.
However, more than half of the states in the U.S. did not have similar protections.
"What the court's decision does is say that outlier states can't be outliers anymore," Hasday explained. "So as a federal rule, no matter where you go in the United States, this protection applies to you."
"Originally I'm from Georgia, which is a state that did not have these protections," said Jacob Thomas, communications manager at OutFront Minnesota, the state's largest LGBT civil rights organization. "I know too many people who have had their lives turned upside down because of discrimination and bias and hate."
Thomas said the court did the right thing in protecting an estimated eight million gay or transgender workers across the country.
"This is a moment of relief and this is a moment of celebration but this is not the end-all be-all," Thomas said. "There is still a lot more our country has to reckon with and resolve."
Even with these federal protections in place, workers have to be able to prove their sexual orientation or gender identity as the reason they were fired.
"Unfortunately, victims of employment discrimination tend to have a very hard time proving their cases in court because employers have every motivation to hide their true reasons for making adverse employment decisions," Hasday said.
The Minnesota Department of Human Rights released this statement Monday: "Today, the highest court in the country affirmed that discrimination against LGBTQ+ workers is illegal. Since 1993, Minnesota's civil rights law has prohibited discrimination on the basis of someone's gender identity or sexual orientation. The decision today by the U.S. Supreme Court echoed this fundamental right," said Minnesota Department of Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero. "Particularly for trans women of color and gender nonconforming individuals who experience higher rates of discrimination and violence, this ruling will have a profound impact for decades to come."
The department is urging anyone who has experienced or witnessed an incident of discrimination or bias to call Minnesota's Discrimination Helpline at 1-833-454-0148 or submit an online form.