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Federal Employment Protections for LGBTQ Employees

Posted onJuly 20, 2020

The Supreme Court recently expanded employment protections and rights for LGBTQ employees across the United States. Both employees and employers should understand these important changes in the law and speak with an attorney about any concerns. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on several protected factors, yet the law does not expressly include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression as protected factors. A number of states went a step further than federal law and enacted statutes that specifically protected employees based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. Oklahoma, however, was not one of those states.

The Oklahoma Anti-Discrimination Act protects employees based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, genetic information, and disability. This meant that employers in the state could openly and freely refuse to hire, terminate, or allow harassment against employees who were transgender or not heterosexual. Many employees suffered adverse employment actions that would have been unlawful in certain other states as a result.

On June 15, 2020, this situation drastically changed. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) issued a landmark ruling that provided protections for LGBTQ employees across the country. Now, under the ruling, Title VII effectively prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression in workplaces in every state, regardless of state law.

The SCOTUS Decision

The case heard by the court was Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, which involved a county employee who was fired when the county office learned he was playing in a gay recreational softball league. Joined with that case were two additional federal cases, involving a skydiving instructor who was terminated when he told a customer he was gay, and a transgender employee of a funeral home who began presenting as a woman instead of a man.

The issue before the court was whether Title VII protections based on sex and gender inherently included sexual orientation and gender identity. In a 6-3 decision, SCOTUS ruled that they did. The decision reasoned that you could act based on sexual orientation and gender identity without also acting based on sex and gender. Even if it was not what the lawmakers might have foreseen the law to cover, the plain language of the law should be interpreted to protect LGBTQ employees.

What this Means

It is critical for both employees and employers to recognize what the SCOTUS decision means moving forward. Employees should understand their new rights under the law, which is to be free from discrimination at work based on their actual or perceived LGBTQ status. You should know the many types of discrimination that might occur, including:

  1. Refusal to hire applicants because of suspected LGBTQ status
  2. Inquiring about LGBTQ status in interviews or on applications
  3. Failing to promote an LGBTQ employee over a less-qualified candidate
  4. Not allowing LGBTQ employees to work in consumer-facing positions
  5. Giving LGBTQ employees less desirable shifts or assignments
  6. Refusing to increase an employee’s pay because they are LGBTQ
  7. Terminating an employee for LGBTQ status
  8. Allowing harassment regarding sexual orientation or gender identity
  9. Retaliating against employees for complaining of potential harassment or discrimination

Employees who experience any of the above now have important rights under federal law, and they can report the matter to the EEOC with the help of an employment lawyer.

On the other hand, employers should take action to fully update all policies to reflect the new protections under Title VII. If needed, employees and supervisors should be trained in the prevention of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. This can help to ensure that unlawful discrimination does not take place in your work environment.

Speak with a Tulsa Employment Law Attorney about Your Concerns

At Wandres Law, PC, we help both employers and employees navigate the complex land of federal and state employment regulations. As employment rights and laws change, we are here to help clients adapt and ensure that laws are being followed. As an employee, if you feel your rights have been violated under Title VII or Oklahoma anti-discrimination laws, we can help you take legal action and seek the relief you deserve. As an employer, if you are facing complaints of discrimination, we can help you resolve the matter as efficiently as possible and avoid unnecessary legal action or liability.

If you have an employment law concern or question, please do not hesitate to call (918) 641-4044 or contact us online for a free consultation with a Tulsa employment law firm today.

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