Feature writing

LGBTQ issues

Plaintiff Gerald Bostock ‘elated’ after Supreme Court LGBTQ victory. Now his case returns to Georgia.

Website:
The Daily Beast

Date:
June 15, 2020

The Supreme Court’s historic anti-LGBTQ discrimination ruling bears plaintiff Gerald Bostock’s name. He tells The Daily Beast he is “thrilled,” and that the fight goes on.

Gerald Bostock’s regular working day as a mental health counselor in the Atlanta area begins with a team meeting—now conducted via Zoom—discussing that day’s roster of patients with colleagues.

On Monday at 10 a.m., he was on the call at home in Doraville, Georgia, with his partner Andy. Their TV—as it has been for many recent Monday mornings—was also tuned into the rolling ticker tape of the SCOTUSblog.

“Suddenly, I had to quickly exit from that work conference call, and begin the process of absorbing what I was seeing and hearing,” Bostock told The Daily Beast. The name of his case, Bostock v. Clayton County, flashed up. He had just made LGBTQ history.

Bostock is the only surviving LGBTQ person at the center of a trio of landmark LGBTQ workplace-discrimination cases. In a 6-3 decision, which bears Bostock’s name (and includes the other two)—SCOTUS ruled that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. Companies cannot now fire people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that “an employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.”

The Trump administration and many states’ discriminatory, anti-LGBTQ policies, most notably against transgender people—from the military ban to the Friday announcement of a curtailment of trans health-care access—now stand squarely on the wrong side of the law, and can expect to be challenged with SCOTUS’ decision front and center.

Sadly, both Donald Zarda and Aimee Stephens, whose names led the other LGBTQ cases, were not alive to hear the result. In Gerald Bostock’s case, this means his original case now returns to trial court in Georgia, immensely bolstered by the Supreme Court decision.

“Homophobia and transphobia are wrong, as I said from the beginning, and any type of workplace discrimination is unacceptable,” Bostock told The Daily Beast. “To hear the opinion read this morning validates what I’ve been saying for the last seven years. I am elated and thrilled. We had a bottle of champagne chilling just in case. There might be a glass of champagne some time later today.”

Within moments of seeing the victory, Bostock was on the phone with one of his attorneys, Thomas Mew, a partner at Buckley Beal in Atlanta.

“It is just awesome,” Bostock told The Daily Beast. “I became very emotional and tearful. My partner and I embraced. I think I screamed. I am speechless, absolutely elated. Words cannot fully express how happy I am right now and how grateful I am to the Supreme Court justices, my legal team, so many different groups, the ACLU, Georgia Equality, family and friends. There are just so many. They’ve helped carry me through the last seven years. Without their support, I don’t know if I would have made it this far and this long.”

Until 2013, Bostock worked for Clayton County, Georgia, managing the county’s CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) program, which trained and assigned volunteers to represent children who have experienced abuse or neglect in court proceedings.

In 2013, Bostock was suddenly fired by Clayton County, and the Supreme Court on Monday supported his claim that this was purely on the grounds of him being gay. The firing came after it was revealed to colleagues that he played for a local gay softball league. He was also subject to homophobic slurs.

In the other two cases, pre-SCOTUS, lower courts had delivered rulings in favor of Zarda and Stephens. But in Bostock’s case, a district court ruled that Title VII did not cover sexual orientation, a ruling upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit—and so Bostock brought his case to the Supreme Court.

“When I was fired I was devastated,” Bostock told The Daily Beast. “I lost the dream job of mine. As a result of that, I lost my income and medical insurance at a time when I was recovering from prostate cancer.”

“What it [the SCOTUS ruling] tells me is all of this past seven-year journey has been validated, and now I will be able to go back to court and take care of other part of this, which will validate a lot of what we’ve been saying in the last seven years.” (Following treatment, Bostock remains cancer-free, and he is “very, very proud of that.”)

Bostock’s case now returns to trial court in Georgia, where he and Clayton County will face each other again—the highest court in the land having ruled in Bostock’s favor.

Bostock and Mew would not say if Bostock wanted his old job back. They said they were keeping “all their options open,” but the central issues to resolve will be around possible reinstatement, front pay in lieu of reinstatement, and the back payment of income and benefits that Bostock lost as a result of his firing.

Clayton County did not immediately return a request for comment from The Daily Beast.

“While this has been an incredibly long fight for Gerald, now we are back to the beginning of fighting his individual case in trial court,” said Mew.

“The decision this morning lays the groundwork for not only the LGBTQ community, but our nation where we should be treated as equal,” Bostock told The Daily Beast. “This is an exciting moment for the LGBTQ community, but recent events around the country underscore there is still so much work to be done. I want to lend my voice to efforts to support the Equality Act, which would ensure equality for everyone.

“The state of Georgia does not have such a thing,” he pointed out, “nor does it have a hate crimes law. Discrimination is wrong, and so is racism. I think we need to work harder and do better across the board.”

The Supreme Court heard the LGBTQ cases last October.

“Quite obviously, it’s been difficult,” said Bostock of the wait for the decision. “There has been a lot of anxiety, a lot of emotion, tied to it, which equated to a lot of sleepless nights on Sunday nights. Luckily we’ll have some better nights’ sleep moving forward.”

For the rest of Monday, Bostock plans to return as many of the calls of congratulations he has received as possible.

It has also been difficult, Bostock said, to be the sole living LGBTQ person fighting their case.

“I was so glad to have the opportunity to meet Aimee Stephens in Washington and get to know her and hear her story personally, and to get to know her wife, and then to have the ability to get to know Don Zarda’s sister Melissa,” Bostock told The Daily Beast. “Even though I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to Don before his passing, just to get to know their families, and be on the same journey together, has been very powerful,” he said.

“I will continue to stand proudly for what the three of us did on this journey to end workplace discrimination for our community. We will move forward in memory of Don Zarda and Aimee Stephens, and push for the Equality Act all over this country, ensuring companies treat their employees equally and fairly. A lot of work still needs to be done, and I will continue to do it in memory of Don and Amy.”

“We have shown nobody should have to go to work fearful because of who we are, who we love, or how we identify,” Bostock added. “The justices validated that for us—not just for me, Don Zarda, and Aimee Stephens, but the entire LGBTQ community, and I hope that in times of uncertainty this will become a little bit of light in a lot of the darkness going on around our country right now. This is just one of the steps that need to be taken. I’m very proud to be part of the process.”