The U.S. Supreme Court recently held that Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination protects gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers. The 6-3 decision makes clear that employers cannot discriminate against gay or transgender workers for being gay or transgender. These protections apply to all employers with 15 or more employees.
The Supreme Court’s decision was made after hearing three separate cases, all involving individuals alleging they were fired because they were gay or transgender. In the first, a transgender woman alleged the funeral home where she was employed fired her after she revealed she was transgender. In another, the plaintiff alleged he was fired from the skydiving company where he worked after he told a customer that he was gay. The final plaintiff, a social worker, was fired after he joined a gay softball league. His employer, Clayton County, claimed this conduct was “unbecoming” of a public employee.
The primary question before the court was does Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination “on the basis of sex” extend to discrimination against LGBT employees? The court concluded that when an employee is fired for being gay or transgender, the employer “fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.” Since discrimination against LGBT individuals “necessarily entails discrimination based on sex,” the court found it was covered under Title VII. However, the court specifically declined to discuss ancillary issues, such as whether “sex-segregated bathrooms or locker rooms or dress codes might violate Title VII.” Additionally, the court recognized there were unanswered questions regarding the interplay between Title VII and protections for religious freedom.
Under this ruling, employers are prohibited from discriminating against LGBT employees the same way they are prohibited from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, or national origin. While unanswered questions may arise about what workplace policies do or don’t violate Title VII regarding LGBT protections, it is clear that employers should not consider whether or not an employee is LGBT when making any human resources decisions, such as hiring, firing, or promoting. Additionally, employers should review their current policies and procedures and add language including LGBT employees when discussing matters of sex and sex discrimination and make clear that harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity are prohibited. Individuals with decision making roles should also be informed of and trained on the implications of this new ruling and any changes to policies. Employers should consider promptly communicating any policy changes to employees and conducting a harassment training addressing harassment based on sexual orientation or gender identity, if those subjects weren’t previously addressed in such trainings.
For more information on this ruling or how it impacts your business, contact the employment law experts at General Counsel, PC today at 703-991-7973.