New York law prohibits discrimination in employment based on gender identity or sexual orientation, but the majority of states in the country have no such laws. Up until last month, federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment based on gender was not considered to include gender identity or sexual orientation. This changed when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of two plaintiffs who brought lawsuits against their employers, one for gender identity discrimination and one for sexual orientation discrimination.
Workplace discrimination against certain protected characteristics is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Those protected characteristics expressly include race, color, sex, religion, and national origin. In a 6-3 decision issued last month, the U.S. Supreme Court found that “sex” includes discrimination based on LGBTQ status. The majority opinion was written, surprisingly, by Justice Gorsuch, a President Trump appointee. Justice Gorsuch essentially stated that discrimination based on LGBTQ status necessarily involves a person’s gender given that gender by birth is what dictates a person’s sexual orientation or whether a person is transgender.
Following this decision, people in the LGBTQ community will now be able to seek recourse with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they face discrimination or harassment at work based on their LGBTQ status, real or perceived. They can also file discrimination lawsuits under federal law.
This decision was a major victory for LGBTQ employees living in states that do not have their own anti-discrimination laws protecting the LGBTQ community. Though this provides New Yorkers with more avenues to pursue, they were already fortunate enough to have protections at the state level. Individuals who are unsure of whether they have a claim for workplace discrimination or harassment may want to consult with an employment attorney.