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SCOTUS Extends Discrimination Protections to LGBTQ+ Workers

In a historic ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court expanded Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to grant workplace protections to LGBTQ+ individuals today. Until now, 52% of LGBTQ+ workers lived in states that offered no workplace protections, making it legal for them to be terminated or denied a promotion on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. 

“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law,” Justice Neil M. Gorsuch wrote for the majority in the 6-to-3 ruling. He went on to say “An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”

The ruling was made regarding two sets of cases the court considered. The first included a pair of lawsuits from gay men who claimed they were fired due to their sexual orientation: Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., No. 17-1618, and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, No. 17-1623.

The first case was brought by Gerald Bostock. Bostock was fired from a government program aimed at helping neglected and abused children in Clayton County, Georgia, after he had joined a gay softball league.

The second was brought by skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, who also claimed he was fired because he was gay. His termination followed a complaint by a female customer after she expressed concern over being strapped to Zarda during a tandem dive. Zarda, in an attempt to reassure the customer, said he was “100% gay.”

The second set considered focused on gender identity. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, No. 18-107 was brought by a transgender woman, Aimee Stephens, who was fired from a Michigan funeral home after she informed management that she was a transgender woman and would start working in women’s clothing.

For California businesses, this will change little about their practices. California is among the 21 states that already provided workplace discrimination protections for employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Still, it’s important to reevaluate workplace policies when sweeping changes are enacted at the federal level to ensure compliance. 

JoLynn Markison, an attorney with Dorsey & Whitney in Minneapolis, explained that the ruling mandates equal treatment for LBGTQ+ employees. “If your employment policies do not currently provide for nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, you should update them to explicitly list those categories.”

If you have any questions on how to ensure your business is compliant with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, please contact one of our HR specialists today.

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Disclaimer: The information and resources provided herein are not a substitute for experienced legal counsel and does not constitute legal advice or attempt to address the numerous factual issues that inevitably arise in any employment-related dispute. Although this information attempts to cover some major recent developments, it is not all-inclusive, and any recommendations are based upon HR best practices and procedures. We recommend you consult an attorney for legal guidance.

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