As of this week, it is illegal to fire someone simply because they are gay or transgender.
That had been legal for private employers in most states, including Nebraska, until the U.S. Supreme Court said Monday that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides employment protection for gay and transgender people.
“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,” Associate Justice Neal Gorsuch wrote for the court. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Now Nebraska must approve legislation making it clear that the state is in step with the law of the land and that it values all workers. State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks of Lincoln has said she will press forward with her proposal to do that, which has been supported by Nebraska business groups but opposed by Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Business leaders see such a law as essential to economic growth. “Diversity and inclusion is not an option, it’s not something nice — it’s fundamental to the economic development of our state,” Bryan Slone, president of the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said back in February.
A state law is needed as a statement that Nebraska welcomes and protects all workers. It would enable issues to be addressed locally rather than through litigation under a federal ruling, and would create consistency with existing local ordinances.
We believe a state law must extend the protections to every worker, going beyond the ruling. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act doesn’t apply to businesses with fewer than 15 employees, but surely what is good for 15 workers is good for 12 or two or every one of us.
Such a law is critical for the future. Many young people are reluctant to settle in a place that does not assert its desire for diversity and inclusiveness.
Gorsuch said the court can deal with religious objections in future cases and noted that the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act could provide protections for affected employers.
Our love life and sexuality, though, seldom are relevant to our job performance in the normal course of business. Nebraskans can celebrate this ruling as being completely consistent with our state motto, emblazoned on our seal and flag: Equality before the law.