June 15, 2020 marks a momentous win for the LGBTQI+ community, employment equality, and access to justice. In a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court addressed a long-contested grievance regarding a key provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by declaring that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal under federal law. Here are a few answers to questions that you may have about the ruling as an employer.
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How does this compare to past interpretations of the law?
To give context, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits job discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sex. Traditionally, protection under the law was considered to apply in cases of discrimination on the basis of being a woman or a man. However as of today’s ruling, the court’s interpretation has expanded to include sexual orientation and gender identity. In the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch writes, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguishable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
Why is this ruling significant? How many people does it impact?
In terms of significance and breadth, it is close, if not equal, to the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges ruling that legalized same-sex marriage in all fifty states. In addition to providing employment protection for millions of LGBTQI+ workers, today’s Supreme Court decision is a major milestone in the ongoing fight against workplace discrimination, and will impact employers across the nation.
As an employer, what does this mean for me?
Naturally, this means that you cannot fire an employee based on their sexual orientation or transgender status. As with any other legislative change, this ruling also presents you an opportunity to review and, if necessary, revise your Employee Handbook to be inclusive and representative of a more just, diverse, and equal workplace for your team. If you require additional information or have any questions when reviewing your company’s policies or practices, ask a lawyer.