Barkan Meizlish , June 29, 2020
Using the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Supreme Court ruled that it unlawful to discriminate against an employee on the basis of their sexuality and gender identity. Now LGBTQ+ workers have a legal recourse to pursue workplace discrimination claims, even in states that do not already have protections in place. The 6-3 decision was a consolidation of three cases: Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia; Altitude Express v. Zarda; and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC. The majority ruled this way as they reasoned that “it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
To prove an employment discrimination claim, an employee must prove either disparate treatment or discriminatory harassment. Generally, this means an employee must prove they are a member of a protected class, that their employer or workplace harasser knew that they were a member of a protected class, that they were harmed by the actions of their employer or harasser, and finally, that others of that class were similarly treated or that the harassment was because of their status as a member of a protected class. The Supreme Court also held that although there can be multiple “but for” causes of employee discrimination, termination, or harassment, if any of them are because of a protected classification then there has been a violation of federal law.
This landmark case will be a drastic change for the 27 states that prior to this decision did not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status. These states include: Arizona, Michigan, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. This may mean employers in these states will need to offer new anti-discrimination training and update their employee handbooks regarding gender and sexuality issues in the workplace.
However, this decision does not provide all the answers that employees will need regarding gender and sexuality-minorities in the workplace. The Supreme Court themselves noted there will likely be more cases in the future that further addressing the extent and influence of this opinion. For example, the disputes over restrooms and other gender-specific facilities being available for transgender employees may still be an issue as well as mandating certain healthcare benefits for transgender employees and potential religious liberty claims.
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