Law Professor Instrumental in Landmark LGBT Decision

Rutgers Law Professor Katie Eyer helped to influence the U.S. Supreme Court

By Jeanne Leong

When the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a landmark ruling that banned discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, law professors and advocates saw the influence of Rutgers Law Professor Katie Eyer’s work in the opinion.

Eyer authored an article, and later an amicus “friend of the court” brief, arguing that textualism—a theory that the interpretation of the law should center on the legal text—required the court to conclude that gay and transgender employees are protected by Title VII. The Supreme Court adopted this argument, ruling by a 6-3 margin in the case of Bostock v. Clayton County that workplace discrimination basedon an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Eyer’s brief, which was based on her article, “Statutory Originalism and LGBT Rights,” published in the Wake Forest Law Review in 2019, was cited as helping to inform legal strategy in the case and influencing Justice Neil Gorsuch’s majority opinion. “Almost every analytical step in Gorsuch’s opinion can be traced back to @katie_eyer’s visionary article,” ACLU attorney Josh Block wrote on Twitter.

An anti-discrimination law scholar and litigator, Eyer applauded the Supreme Court’s decision. “LGBTQ workers have long experienced discrimination and harassment in the workplace,” Eyer said. “Many states still lack explicit protections for LGBTQ workers and some lower courts had held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex, and religion, did not apply to such workers. For many workers, this meant that they could face egregious forms of discrimination and harassment at work—being physically assaulted, fired, refused employment—without any recourse. The Supreme Court’s decision in Bostock makes clear that all LGBTQ workers are indeed protected by federal employment discrimination law.”

Eyer, a resident of Philadelphia, earned her law degree in 2004 from Yale University and her undergraduate degree from Columbia University in 1999. She joined Rutgers Law in 2012 and in 2017 was honored with the Society of American Law Teachers’ Junior Faculty Teaching Award. Prior to joining academia, Eyer litigated and won precedent-setting court cases protecting the legal rights of LGBT and disabled employees.

She is optimistic that the Supreme Court ruling will have lasting impact. “I hope that after Bostock, all employers will now take seriously their obligations to make their workplaces welcoming and nondiscriminatory environments for LGBTQ employees,” she said. “Although the experiences of other protected groups make clear that formal protections will not eradicate discrimination in the workplace, this is an important step forward.”

She said her work was only part of a major effort fighting for equality. “I am immensely humbled and gratified to have some of the Supreme Court advocates and others pointing to my work as influential in the opinion,” Eyer said. “However, the reality is that an enormous number of people, over a span of many years, played critical roles in getting us to the decision in Bostock. While I hope that my own work played some role in helping to achieve the outcome, I am acutely aware that this was the result of innumerable advocates—both in and outside of the courts—helping to develop the legal reasoning, laying the groundwork for the decision, and then making the arguments persuasively to the court.”

For related stories, visit “A Supreme Presence” and “Cuban-Born Justice Inspired by Parents” in the fall 2020 issue of Rutgers–Camden Magazine.

Posted in: 2020 Fall, On Campus

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