The United States Supreme Court recently announced that it will hear three cases that address whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act applies to workplace discrimination claims based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Two consolidated cases from the 2nd Circuit (CT, NY, and VT) and 11th Circuit (AL, FL, and GA) involve discrimination claims based on sexual orientation and transgender issues. In Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., the Second Circuit held that sexual orientation discrimination is motivated by sex and thus is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII. In Bostock v. Clayton County Board of Commissioners, the Eleventh Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, ruling that “[d]ischarge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.” Bostock, 723 F. App’x 964, 965 (11th Cir. 2018).
The third case that will be heard by the Supreme Court comes out of the Sixth Circuit. In Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. R.G. &. G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., 884 F.3d 560 (6th Cir. 2018), the court ruled that Title VII bars discrimination based on a person being transgender. The court explained, “It is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n, 884 F.3d 560, 575 (6th Cir. 2018).
According to recent polling by PRRI, 69% of Americans favor anti-discrimination laws that protect LGBTQIA employees from discrimination in the workplace. The current administration, however, opposes any such protection. In the face of this tension, the Supreme Court’s upcoming decisions in these cases will be closely watched. They will likewise have sweeping impact across the county, much like Obergefell v. Hodges, the landmark civil rights case in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the fundamental right to marry extends to same-sex couples.
Employers in Madison will likely welcome greater certainty on this issue at the federal level. The Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, which is the state-wide statute covering workplace discrimination and harassment, considers discrimination based on sexual orientation to be a form of sexual discrimination, but does not yet prohibit discrimination based on gender identity. The Madison Equal Opportunities Ordinance is more expansive and expressly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The attorneys and HR professionals at Lake Effect HR & Law are ready and willing to assist and advise if you have questions related to workplace discrimination, or you want assistance with professional development or respectful workplace training. Contact us here or call 844-333-5253 (LAKE).