Title VII Protection Extends to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
By Kevin M. Mosher • Jun 19, 2020
On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. In several states, this decision doesn’t change much—many states have passed their own laws protecting gay and transgender individuals from discrimination in the workplace. However, in many states, this decision marks the first time LGBTQ+ individuals are legally protected from discrimination in employment.
HR professionals are familiar with Title VII. This section of the Civil Rights Act makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee or applicant because their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Up until June 15, 2020, it was unclear whether these protections extended to gay and transgender individuals, and courts across the country reached different conclusions.
In its decision, the Supreme Court reasoned it is impossible to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity without considering the individual’s sex. Because discrimination based on sex is prohibited, discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is unlawful under Title VII. In supporting its decision, the Court noted Title VII has long protected individuals from discrimination even when the employer considered factors in addition to sex. For example, employers cannot refuse to hire women with small children, and they can’t require women to make larger contributions to pension funds. If the sex of the individual plays a role in the employer’s decision, the decision is unlawful under Title VII.
This decision finally ends a decades long debate over whether Title VII protects gay and transgender individuals from discrimination in the workplace. Employment law is everchanging, and it is important to stay up to date. Employers should educate their employees on this development and update their harassment policies to ensure they address discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
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