For the past several months, COVID-19 has been at the forefront of employer’s minds. But on June 15, 2020, a monumental decision was reached by the Supreme Court that, like COVID-19, will also affect employers in every industry. On June 15, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination on the basis of “sex” also prohibits discrimination because an individual is homosexual or transgender.
In deciding three cases with similar fact patterns, the Court identified the central question as follows:
Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.
Thus, the Court concluded: “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender defies the law.” This decision resolves a long-standing debate among lower courts regarding whether Title VII covered gay and transgender individuals.
Employers should consider amending employee handbooks and unlawful harassment policies to prohibit discrimination and unlawful harassment on the basis of homosexuality or an employee being transgender. Employee handbooks and unlawful harassment policies should prohibit discrimination and unlawful harassment on the basis of all the protected classes such as race, national origin, disability, age and “any other class protected under applicable federal, state, or local statute, regulation, ordinance, decision, or guidance,” in addition to gender, sexual orientation or transgender status.
Employers should conduct training for employees regarding the employer’s unlawful harassment policy on a regular basis, preferably when an employee is hired and then on an annual or semi-annual basis.
Please call or e-mail Sean A. Monson for assistance in updating your company’s policies prohibiting unlawful discrimination or harassment in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling or if you need assistance formulating a training program for employees regarding unlawful discrimination and harassment. (801) 536-6714, firstname.lastname@example.org