In a 6 to 3 vote on Monday, June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that workplace discrimination because of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity is unlawful discrimination “because of Sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII is the federal employment law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. The law applies to employers with 15 or more employees who worked for the employer for at least 20 weeks of the current or preceding calendar year. Employers may not refuse to hire, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against "any individual" with respect to his or her pay and terms and conditions of employment based on the individual's sex, according to the statute.
The Supreme Court considered three cases before it; two involving employees who alleged they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation and one involving an employee who alleged she was terminated from employment for being transgender. The Supreme Court's opinion will have a long-term impact on employers who are subject to Title VII. Employers that violate Title VII could face costly legal actions.
Currently, almost half of states and many local governments have laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination. The employers doing business in these jurisdictions have incorporated workplace protections and policies to include LGBTQ applicants and employees. The Supreme Court’s decision extends workplace protections to millions more.
Employers in other jurisdictions must now take proactive steps to prevent and prohibit LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace. Employers should review and update policies and handbooks to ensure that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected categories. This includes dress code policies that should avoid language that requires employees to conform to gender norms.
The Supreme Court’s ruling only addresses discrimination under Title VII. However, employers should also look at other related matters such as bathroom and locker room issues, and equal access to health and other benefit offerings for transgender and same-sex spouses and partners. Employers should train managers involved with employment decisions such as hiring, discipline, etc. to ensure they are aware of these additional legal protections.