People in Minnesota may be surprised to hear that, despite the advancements made in LGBTQ rights, discrimination based on sexual orientation is not prohibited under federal law. Although Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on sex, the law does not specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity as part of that protected category. Therefore, in many states, LGBTQ workers can face employment discrimination that is entirely legal.
However, a coalition of 22 states, including Minnesota, have filed a “friend-of-the-court” brief with the United States Supreme Court stating that protections provided to workers through the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should also apply to instances of discrimination involving sexual orientation and gender identity. The brief states that discrimination against LGBTQ workers prevents states from promoting equality. The brief also notes that such discrimination is stopping states from being able to protect workers’ dignity, financial security and mental health. In addition, the brief states that the current bias negatively affects the states’ economies, since a person who is fired or not hired due to their sexual orientation often need to go on public assistance.
The U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing three employment cases involving discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Federal appeals court are split on whether adverse employment actions based on sexual orientation constitute illegal sex discrimination. In one case, a skydiving company let an instructor go due to his sexual orientation. In another case, a funeral-home chain let a transgender worker go after the worker was preparing to live openly as a female.
While it remains to be seen how the U.S. Supreme Court will rule on this topic, their ruling will undoubtedly have a major impact on the LGBTQ community and ultimately on workers across the entire nation. Ultimately, no one should have to face discrimination in the workplace. However, those who are protected under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should know that if they are discriminated against in the workplace, they may be able to take legal action to protect their rights. Employment law attorneys can provide further information on this topic to those who are interested.