Impact to employers on Supreme Court recent LGBTQ+ ruling

What is the impact to employers on the recent LGBTQ+ ruling handed down by the Supreme Court regarding discrimination?

Not much.

In a recent landmark case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, the U.S. Supreme Court grappled with the delicate balance between freedom of speech and public accommodation rights. The outcome of this case has ignited discussions across legal and business circles, particularly regarding its implications for employers.

‘Pure speech’ or ‘public accommodation’?

The crux of the matter revolves around Lorrie Smith, the owner of 303 Creative, a graphic design business in Colorado. Smith, citing religious beliefs, declined to create custom wedding websites for same-sex marriages. However, she maintained a willingness to serve clients regardless of race, creed, sexual orientation, or gender, as long as it didn’t conflict with her convictions. This stance prompted Colorado’s Civil Rights Division to threaten action against 303 Creative for alleged discrimination.

The Supreme Court’s ruling, articulated in a majority opinion by Justice Neil Gorsuch, deemed Smith’s creations as “pure speech.” This designation was crucial, as it afforded constitutional protection under the principle of free speech. Gorsuch argued that compelling Smith to produce content conflicting with her beliefs would infringe upon her First Amendment rights. On the dissenting side, Justice Sonia Sotomayor contended that Smith’s services constituted public accommodation, subject to non-discriminatory practices.

Impact to Employers

For employers, the implications of 303 Creative are nuanced. The ruling’s direct impact is primarily felt by vendors of expressive products facing potential government action for refusing service based on message content, rather than the identity of the requester. However, the broader principle reaffirms the prohibition against discrimination based on protected characteristics, including LGBTQ+ status.

It’s essential for employers to understand that while 303 Creative sets a precedent, its ramifications for day-to-day employment practices may be limited. Other recent decisions, such as Groff v. DeJoy, which addresses employers’ obligations regarding religious accommodations, hold more significant sway over employment practices in the long run.


In conclusion, the aftermath of 303 Creative v. Elenis prompts reflection on the delicate balance between individual rights and non-discrimination principles. While it underscores the sanctity of free speech, particularly in creative expression, its direct impact on employers may be less pronounced than initially perceived. However, staying informed and attentive to evolving legal landscapes remains paramount for businesses navigating these complex waters. Don’t have time to do this and run your business?  Our dedicated SmallBiz HR consultants stay abreast of changing laws that impact your business.  By subscribing to our SmallBiz HR service for as low as $99/month, you can email, text or call your dedicated HR consultant  unlimited times throughout the month with any question you might have regarding your employees.  Contact us to see how easy it is to get started.

Stephen H. Murphy, SPHR, is the president and founder of Carolina HR. He has been active in Human Resource management and consulting for over thirty years and brings his experience in a wide variety of HR situations to his clients.


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