June 26, 2020 Category: LGBT Discrimination
In a surprising decision on June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court issued a ruling that expands Title VII protections to LGBTQ individuals.
Twenty-one states have laws that prohibit job discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. However, the Supreme Court decision now gives individuals throughout the United States a legal course of action if they are terminated based on their sexual orientation or transgender status.
LGBTQ Wrongful Termination Protections Expanded Across the Country
The LGBTQ community, advocates, and supporters celebrated the 6-3 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Bostock vs. Clayton County, Georgia. The court held that an employer that fires an employee because the person is transgender or gay violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The decision makes it illegal to discriminate against gay and transgender individuals. This ruling gives victims of discrimination a powerful tool. Until this decision, individuals in states without LGBTQ laws had no legal recourse if an employer wrongfully terminated them because of their sexual orientation or transgender status.
The decision upheld decisions from lower courts that found sexual orientation discrimination was a form of sex discrimination. Title VII makes it illegal to discriminate in the workplace based on a person’s sex. The decision expends “sex” to now include transgender status and sexual orientation.
Three Lives On The Record – Millions Impacted
The case involved three separate wrongful termination cases heard by lower courts. Gerald Bostock was fired from his job with the county because he joined a gay softball team. It came at a time when he was battling prostate cancer, so he also lost his health insurance coverage when his employer wrongfully terminated him.
Donald Zarda was a skydiving instructor. His employer fired him when he revealed to a client that he was gay. Zarda told the client that she did not need to worry about being strapped to him because he was “100 percent gay.”
Aimee Stephens worked for a Michigan funeral home. She told her employers that she was transgender. Two weeks later, her boss fired her claiming that she had failed to follow the company dress code.
Stephens and Zarda both passed away before the court could issue its ruling.
California’s LGBTQ Anti-Discrimination Laws in the Workplace
California enacted state laws that prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual identity or sexual orientation. Under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA), it is illegal for an employer to discriminate against an employee based on protected categories. FEHA protects employees from discrimination, harassment, and retaliation in the workplace.
The protected categories under FEHA include:
- Sexual orientation
- Gender expression
- Gender identity
- Marital status
- Medical condition
- Military or veteran status
- Age (over 40)
- Sex or gender
- Mental or physical disability
- National origin and ancestry, and
- Genetic information.
Now, transgender workers enjoy protections, too.
What Are Examples of Workplace Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation or Transgender Status?
Workplace discrimination can take many forms. Wrongful termination is just one of the ways an employer can discriminate against a member of the LGBTQ community.
Other ways employers discriminate based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity include:
- Denying a person an earned promotion or raise;
- Denying benefits and bonuses;
- Approving or participating in discriminatory conduct by employees that creates a hostile workplace;
- Denying an employee access to training programs or educational material;
- Harassing an employee who files a discrimination complaint;
- Retaliating against an employee for filing a complaint of discrimination;
- Retaliating or harassing an employee for helping another employer or testifying at a discrimination hearing; and,
- Preventing an employee from accessing the necessary equipment or resources that the employee needs to perform his or her job.
The above list is not exhaustive. Employees who believe that they may be the victim of workplace discrimination or wrongful termination may have a cause of action under both the state and federal laws that now govern LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace.
What Remedies Can A Person Receive for LGBTQ Workplace Discrimination?
There are several remedies in the state and federal anti-discrimination laws. Depending on your situation and the applicable laws, you could be entitled to compensation or remedies such as:
- Back Pay
- Hiring or Reinstatement
- Reimbursement for Covered Out-of-Pocket Costs
- Attorneys’ Fees
- Policy Changes
- Reasonable Accommodations
- Future Lost Earnings
- Loss of Earning Capacity
- Damages for Emotional Distress
- Punitive Damages
If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, you may want to talk to a discrimination lawyer. Learning about your legal rights and your options under state and federal anti-discrimination laws is the first step in holding your employer accountable for wrongful acts. You deserve to be treated with respect and work in an environment free from discrimination or harassment.