On Monday, June 15, in what will undoubtedly be recognized as a landmark ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a decision extending the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (the “Act”) to members of the LGBTQ community.
Title VII bars employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
The decision arose from a trio of cases that the Court agreed to hear last fall, two of which involved men who had been fired after disclosing their homosexuality and, in the third case, of a transgender woman who was terminated by her employer when she revealed that she suffered from gender dysphoria and would thereafter dress as a woman at work.
Until the decision, many gay and transgender people were not provided protections under the Act as “sex” was not interpreted by some courts to include either sexual orientation or gender identity. However, in a 6-3 decision authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court resolved the split between various courts and held that an employer who discriminates against an individual for being gay or transgender violates the Act.
A key passage of the ruling states, “We agree that homosexuality and transgender status are distinct concepts from sex. But, as we’ve seen, discrimination based on homosexuality or transgender status necessarily entail discrimination based on sex; the first cannot happen without the second.”
Thus, with the interpretation of “sex” as set forth in the Court’s decision, employers subject to the Act may no longer discriminate with regard to any term, condition, or privilege of employment based on an employee’s sexual orientation or transgender status. This prohibition runs the gamut from recruiting, hiring, promoting, transferring, training, disciplining, and discharging, to assigning work, measuring performance, or providing benefits.
The vast majority of employers in the United States with 15 or more employees are subject to the Act. Employers with fewer than 15 employees are generally subject to state employment discrimination laws, rather than federal law. Ohio’s anti-discrimination statute, applicable to small employers, contains sex discrimination prohibitions almost identical to the federal Act, and it remains to be seen whether Ohio’s courts will follow the Supreme Court’s interpretation. In general, Ohio’s courts tend to defer to federal courts which have interpreted a federal statute worded the same as a state statute.
Employers should review relevant policies and employment handbooks, and well as advise relevant management personnel to ensure compliance with the new interpretation of the Act.
Please do not hesitate to contact any member of the Critchfield Employment Law team for assistance.