Justice Scalia: Civil Rights Champion?

United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016. Many disagreed with the outspoken justice’s politics; some were happy to see him go. Many compilations of his opinions/dissents (such as this one or this one) appear to highlight his conservative ideology.

Unsurprisingly missing from many such compilations is his opinion in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Servs., Inc., 523 U.S. 75, 118 S. Ct. 998, 140 L. Ed. 2d 201 (1998), which broadened the protections available to workers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Specifically, in Oncale the Court held that sex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII. Justice Scalia wrote:

We see no justification in the statutory language or our precedents for a categorical rule excluding same-sex harassment claims from the coverage of Title VII. As some courts have observed, male-on-male sexual harassment in the workplace was assuredly not the principal evil Congress was concerned with when it enacted Title VII. But statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed. Title VII prohibits “discriminat[ion] … because of … sex” in the “terms” or “conditions” of employment. Our holding that this includes sexual harassment must extend to sexual harassment of any kind that meets the statutory requirements. … [S]ex discrimination consisting of same-sex sexual harassment is actionable under Title VII[.]

In addition to literally expanding the scope of Title VII, Justice Scalia also paved the way for increased protections for LGBT workers: In a 2015 decision, the EEOC cited Oncale as support for its conclusion that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

While it may get lost in the shuffle, Justice Scalia’s critical contribution to the expansion of workers’ rights can not, and should not, be overlooked.

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