It is not every day that the United States Supreme Court issues a decision that dramatically changes the workplace, but it happened this week. In a landmark decision captioned as Bostock v. Clayton County, issued by the Court on June 15th, the Court ruled that federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of “sex” will now include protections for individuals on the basis of sexual orientation, transgender, and gender identity.
On its face, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides, in pertinent part, that it is an “unlawful employment practice for an employer” to discriminate against an individual “because of such individual’s race, color, sex, or national origin” (emphasis added).
In the decades since its passing, courts across the country have grappled with the meaning of “sex” within the text of Title VII and the extent of its coverage; however, today, the Court clarified that “sex” includes sexual orientation, transgender, and gender identity, extending employment protections to these protected classes of people.
Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court in which he writes:
In Title VII, Congress adopted broad language making it illegal for an employer to rely on an employee’s sex when deciding to fire that employee. We do not hesitate to recognize today a necessary consequence of that legislative choice: An employer who fires [or discriminates against] an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.
This is a very important decision for all employers in America to recognize and follow as it will surely lead to liability and lawsuits for those employers that choose to ignore it. Practically, this decision prohibits an employer from considering an employee’s sexual orientation, transgender, or gender identification when making decisions concerning hiring, discipline, pay rate, job duties, and termination. As a result, employers should take this ruling as an opportunity to update employee handbooks and ensure provisions reflect the newly identified protected classes. As an additional measure, employers should use this decision as an opportunity to conduct re-trainings for all employees to ensure company-wide compliance with anti-discrimination and harassment policies, including the recent protections afforded to the LGBTQ community. Finally, this decision should spark employers to consider purchasing or reviewing their current Employment Practices Liability Insurance (“EPLI”) plan to ensure protection in the event of claims arising out of this decision.
Bryan Meek is a member of Brennan, Manna & Diamond’s Employment & Labor team and is available to assist you with responding to requests for information and/or appealing unfavorable unemployment decisions. Bryan can be reached at 330.253.5586, or firstname.lastname@example.org.