Supreme Court Decision Provides Opportunity for Businesses to Review Employment Policies

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that existing federal law forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.  Based on a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court decided to uphold lower court rulings that sexual orientation and transgender discrimination are forms of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

At the time of the Supreme Court's ruling, 21 states -- including New York -- had their own laws prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Pennsylvania’s and Ohio's statutes do not specifically protect against employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation and instead limit protection solely on the basis of sex.  Ohio state government agencies have been prohibited from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity under a 2018 Governor Kasich-issued executive order.  Governor Wolf had signed a similar order in 2016 that not only extended the non-discrimination mandate to state agencies, but also to contractors doing business with the Commonwealth.  Numerous municipalities in all three states have implemented their own ordinances to protect the LGBTQ community from employment discrimination, regardless of whether their employer is a public or private entity.

These varying laws at various levels of government have created a patchwork of rules that made it difficult for employers to understand their compliance obligations and for employees to know their rights.  Yesterday's Supreme Court decision arguably changed all of that, perhaps signaling the ideal time for businesses to review and, if necessary, revise their internal policies and practices to ensure compliance with current law.

If you have concerns about whether your business needs to update its employment, benefits, or other human resources policies in the wake of the Supreme Court's decision, please contact an attorney in the Labor & Employment practice group at our Firm.