LGBTQ+ Rights in the Workplace
On June 15, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court made history as they ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VII) protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from being discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression. Essentially, this ruling made it federally illegal to fire someone because they identify within the LGBTQ+ community. Prior to this ruling, only 22 states had laws that explicitly prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. For years LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace have been neglected. The ruling in June signaled a major step towards justice. Below we will further discuss how LGBTQ+ rights in the workplace have progressed, what enforcing these rights looks like, and what progress is still to be made.
Federal Ruling vs. State Laws
As previously mentioned, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, matters of workplace discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community were left to state legislators. Again, less than half of all the states had laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender expression. In 24 states, there was absolutely no legal protection for LGBTQ+ employees. In other words, in 24 states there were no legal repercussions for employers that blatantly discriminated against gay, lesbian, and transgender employees.
Workplace Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation
In addition, states that did have anti-discrimination laws still struggled to protect all LGBTQ+ workers in their states. For example, in 1992 New Jersey passed a law that prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 2006, New Jersey expanded the law to include discrimination based on gender expression. However, some New Jersey employees were still not covered under this law. Some of these workers were employed by multi-state companies which make their employees sign agreements binding them to the laws of the other states where their company operates, states which may not have similar LGBTQ+ protection laws. Also, if an employee was working for a federal agency in New Jersey, they would not have been covered by New Jersey state law. Now, irregardless of state laws, a discrimination case can be taken to federal court and LGBTQ+ employees are protected under Title VII.
Why the Workplace is still Unequal for LGBTQ+ Employees
While the Supreme Court ruling was a step in the right direction for LGBTQ+ rights, there is still a long way to go in claiming equality in the workplace. A major issue still facing LGBTQ+ employees is the disparity in healthcare access. Often HIV treatment drugs are not covered by company insurance plans, a rule that disproportionately harms gay and bisexual men. Hormone treatments are sometimes only covered for women going through menopause, excluding hormone treatments prescribed by doctors for transgender patients. Additionally, same-sex couples may be excluded from access to fertility treatments. Even furthermore, paid parental leave is often only granted to the birth-mom. This leaves working, same-sex couples unable to keep their job and care for their new baby.
Issues with Religion and Workplace Discrimination
During the ruling, the Supreme Court also said they would not make a stance on firing due to religious beliefs or the issues regarding same-sex bathrooms and locker rooms. This means companies may still use religious reasons as a way to fire LGBTQ+ employees. It also means transgender employees will continue to be singled out when an issue regarding bathroom use and gender arise. It is clear there are many areas in which LGBTQ+ employees may still face discrimination in the workplace. The Supreme Court ruling was not an end-all solution to gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination, but it is a start.
How to Enforce the Rights You Do Have
If you identify with the LGBTQ+ community and feel that your rights under Title VII have been violated, it is important to take action for the justice you deserve. Pursuing an employment discrimination claim against an employer can be complicated. Depending on when and where you file your claim, procedural laws may vary. Therefore, it is helpful to have a lawyer guide and support you through the process. David Kaplan, a New Jersey lawyer, has dedicated 30 years to helping clients with employment discrimination claims. His expertise in unlawful discrimination and commitment to serving justice will ensure you the best possible outcome in filing your case. For a free case evaluation visit his website or check out his Instagram.