The Supreme Court recently ruled that LGBTQ individuals are officially protected from discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment. This decision affects all employers with 15+ employees.
Background: Title VII
The decision was a response to three separate cases. All of these were about employment discrimination based on “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to all employers with 15+ employees.
For years, there has been an ongoing debate over the definition of sex under Title VII. Originally, many assumed it meant only that men and women could not be treated differently. However, the Supreme Court has interpreted the definition to include certain characteristics or expectations related to sex.
Although previous decisions had not provided a definitive answer as to whether sexual orientation and gender identity were protected, we now know the answer is “yes.”
Several circuit courts of appeal had already ruled that sex included sexual orientation and/or gender identity. Further, many states have their own civil rights laws to protect LGBTQ employees from discrimination in the context of employment (often at a lower employee count).
For years, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has held that sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Additionally, the EEOC (which enforces Title VII) has sued employers for discrimination based on that interpretation.
Because of the rulings, laws, and interpretations already in play, most employers have been operating under the assumption that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is or could be found illegal. As a result, today’s rulings should not require most employers to change their behavior.
Are you missing this policy in your employee handbook? The Equal Employment Opportunity policy provided by the HR Support Center includes sexual orientation and gender identity. Log in today to download a copy to rest easy knowing you’re compliant.
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