On June 15, 2020, in a landmark 6-3 decision, the United States Supreme Court held that LGBTQ employees are protected against workplace discrimination by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In the majority opinion written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court held that Title VII's ban on discrimination based on "sex" extends to discrimination based on sexual orientation. Specifically, Justice Gorsuch wrote:
"When an employer fires an employee for being homosexual or transgender, it necessarily intentionally discriminates against that individual in part because of sex [in violation of Title VII].”
The decision further stated that “the plaintiff’s sex need not be the sole or primary cause of the employer’s adverse action” for Title VII to apply.
Thus, LGBTQ employees now enjoy nation-wide protection from adverse employment actions based on their sexual orientation, as opposed to a patchwork of state and local regulations, as well as inconsistent positions handed down by District and Circuit courts.
WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS?
While the scope of the opinion will be subject to debate, its implications will be significant. Notably, the Court made clear that its decision applies only to employment actions, and does not address issues such as bathrooms and locker rooms segregated by sex. Moreover, it remains to be seen how the decision will impact an employer's actions based on religious objections, with the Court stating that these were "questions for future cases..."
Nevertheless, employers should ensure that they have appropriate policies in place prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, as well as procedures for receiving, investigating and responding to complaints. In addition, employees must be trained on prevention of discrimination against LGBTQ employees, with particular emphasis on managers and supervisors, and their obligations to report instances of harassment or discrimination that have come to their attention.
For more information on the Court's decision, anti-harassment or anti-discrimination policies, workplace training for employees and other preventative measures, contact Ron Rolleri at firstname.lastname@example.org.