The Supreme Court, the LGBTQ Community, and Discrimination
On Monday, June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court ruled that it is illegal for someone to be fired for being gay, bisexual, or transgender. This decision has a large impact on employers since, prior to this ruling, it was legal in the majority of the United States.
For those who belong to the LGBTQ community or have loved ones who do, this ruling is a major step forward toward equal rights and job security. The impacts for lawmakers and employers are a bit more complicated.
Impacts on the Equality and Fairness for All Acts
Two acts already in process – the Equality Act, which passed the house in May 2019, and the Fairness for All Act, which was introduced in December 2019 – also concern themselves with rights of the LGBTQ community. Both of these acts also involve the protection of religious beliefs and religious rights and therefore are at the center of conflict, especially around the subject of same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court’s decision last Monday accomplishes part of what these bills were seeking but will also change the conversation surrounding them. Comments from the justices surrounding their ruling suggest that the Supreme Court is concerned with protecting the rights of both the LGBTQ community and religious groups.
The main concern for religious employers is whether or not they feel their own rights are being restricted or dictated based on the rights of other populations.
What This Means for Employers and HR
The Supreme Court Ruling provides clarity about the interpretation of Title VII, shedding light for HR professionals on how they should or should not proceed. Employers who may not have previously needed policies for nondiscrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity should now revisit their handbooks and specifically, add that wording.
Title VII states that employers may not discriminate against anyone based on color, national origin, race, religion and sex. The new ruling has made it clear that both sexual orientation and gender identity are covered under the ban against sex discrimination. This law applies to employers with 15 or more employees.
The Supreme Court ruled that the language Congress adopted for Title VII was broad enough to be interpreted in this way, although this was likely not in consideration by lawmakers at the time. It is important for employers to note this enforced distinction since those who violate it could face costly legal actions. Employers with fewer than 15 employees still need to follow state and local anti-discrimination laws and should stay on top of any regional changes, as well.
Looking to the Future
As employers and workplaces adjust to this new ruling, it is important to remember that not all questions and concerns have been answered already. Employers may be facing a number of questions about changes in practices and the sustainability of these changes.
As employers across the country adapt to this new ruling, and as laws move through the legislature, changes will surely continue to be made. It is important for employers and HR to remain on top of the continued adaptions to ensure that they do not put themselves in the position of acting illegally.