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Supreme Court Protects Sexual Orientation Under Title VII

Companies that do not already meet laws protecting employees from sexual orientation discrimination may need to make changes to ensure compliance.
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On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark 6-3 decision that includes sexual orientation as protected under Title VII. This means that termination or other negative employment actions taken against an LGTBQ employee on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity is “sex discrimination” and therefore against the law. 

"Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee,” Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the decision. “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have been questioned in members of a different sex.”

One example based on two of the plaintiffs in the cases brought before the Court was that a man who dates a man should not be treated differently than a woman who dates a man. Another plaintiff was a transgender woman who was fired for failing to follow the dress code two weeks after telling her employer she was transgender.

Currently, 21 states, along with some cities and counties, have laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. This ruling means that federal law now protects Title VII-covered employees in all states from discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

With this ruling, companies that do not already satisfy laws protecting employees from sexual orientation discrimination should:

  • Determine if they are covered by Title VII or other equal employment laws.
  • Review and revise their policies to include LGBTQ+ status, such as sexual orientation, gender expression and transgender statuses.
  • Update other policies that may be impacted (directly or indirectly) by sex, such as dress code, benefit coverage, job requirements and leave entitlement.
  • Ensure all policies and procedures are applied equally without regard for sexual orientation or transgender status.
  • Train all managers and employees that any and all discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment violates the law and therefore company policy, including the newly protected groups.
  • Enforce all policies fairly and discipline any employee, manager, client or vendor who discriminates, intentionally or unintentionally, against an employee in a group protected under Title VII or any other law such as ADA, ADEA, USERRA, and IRCA.

If you have any questions about if or how this ruling impacts your workplace or if you need assistance updating your non-harassment policies and training, contact Affinity HR Group, a Big “I” Hires partner.

Paige McAllister is vice president, HR compliance, Affinity HR Group, Inc.

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Thursday, July 2, 2020
Recruiting, Hiring & Training