Supreme Court agrees to consider LGBT discrimination in the workplace
As mentioned in a prior post, the Supreme Court of the United States will soon resolve uncertainty as to whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.
In the first two consolidated cases, Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, a skydiving instructor and a child welfare services coordinator, respectively, alleged that they were fired for being gay. In the third case, R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, an employee said she was fired when she came out as transgender.
The relevant Title VII provision prohibits discrimination against an individual “because of sex” without precisely defining whether “sex” encompasses sexual orientation or gender identity. Various Courts of Appeal have disagreed on the interpretation. For its part, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has long maintained that Title VII protects gender identity and, more recently, sexual orientation. The current administration’s Department of Justice takes the opposite position.
It is difficult to predict the Court’s rulings in these cases given the new conservative majority. A narrow interpretation of Title VII would not only impact employment law, but would also signal a shift in momentum away from the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized same-sex marriage.
Whatever the outcome, the Court’s decision will decide the issue for at least another two years. The House passed legislation on Friday that would expressly expand Title VII and other laws that ban discrimination in housing, finance, employment, schools, and public places to include gender identity and sexual orientation as protected classes. The Republican-led Senate will not take up the bill; however, passage in the House indicates expansion of this legislation will be a top priority the next time Democrats control Congress and the White House.
If you have any questions about how these cases may impact your business or employment, please give us a call. We are happy to help.