In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that Title VII, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. This decision effectively provides greater workplace protections to employees across the country, especially for workers in states that have not incorporated LGBTQ protections into their laws.
The Court’s opinion rests on the belief that “…it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
When does an employer violate the law?
Employers violate the law if they discriminate against an employee based on a protected trait. The Court discussed applying a “but for” standard of causation. In other words, if an individual wouldn’t have had an adverse action taken against them, but for a protected trait, the action is discriminatory.
One example mentioned by the Court involved two employees, a man and a woman, who are both attracted to men. The male worker loses his job because he’s attracted to other men. The woman is allowed to keep her job because the employer is okay with women being attracted to men. But for his attraction to other men, the man would not have been fired.
Of course, the law is still far from settled. The Court did not address whether religious exceptions apply to gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination. If you believe you’ve experienced workplace discrimination of any kind, you should discuss your options with a skilled legal professional.