“An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.” That was the holding of the Supreme Court of the United States, which released its decision in Bostock v. Clayton Co., Georgia, yesterday (June 15, 2020). Title VII is the federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against an individual because of that person’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin. For years now, the issue of whether or not discrimination by employers based on an individual’s homosexuality or transgender status violates Title VII as discrimination on the basis of sex, has been decided differently across several federal appellate jurisdictions. As of yesterday, the decision is clear: employers that discriminate against individuals on the basis of their homosexuality or because they are transgender, violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Many states have already included such protections in their state anti-discrimination laws by adding gender identity, sexual orientation and/or gender expression as protected classes, e.g., California. However, Ohio has not done so. So, how does this ruling affect Ohio employers? It means that for Ohio employers required to comply with the provisions of Title VII, generally employers with 15 or more employees, discrimination on the basis of someone’s homosexuality or transgender status is a violation of federal law. Technically speaking, however, employers who do not meet that 15-employee threshold remain mandated to follow only Ohio law, which does not address this specific issue. From a practical perspective, however, Ohio employers that do not make changes to their policies and practices in accordance with this new ruling, if they haven’t already done so, will find it difficult to effectively recruit and keep talent as the country continues to expand protections to those in the LGBTQ community.
One of CPM’s employment attorneys can help you revise employee handbooks and other policies to address this latest legal development.