On June 15th 2020 the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that employers may not discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment. This decision affects all employers with 15 or more employees.
The decision was a response to three separate cases, all of which were about employment discrimination based on “sex” under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. There has been debate for years about whether sex under Title VII meant only that men and women could not be treated differently, or whether there were broader implications based on underlying expectations as they relate to sex (specifically, which sex a person is attracted to or how they present themselves). This decision resolves that debate in favor of a broad interpretation of sex.
Several circuit courts of appeal had already ruled that sex included sexual orientation, gender identity, or both, and many states have their own civil rights laws to protect these characteristics in the context of employment (often at a lower employee count). Additionally, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which enforces Title VII, has for years held the position that that sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity, and has sued employers for discrimination based on that interpretation.
Because of the rulings, laws, and interpretations already in play, most employers have been operating under the assumption that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is or could be found illegal. As a result, today’s rulings should not require most employers to change their behavior but employers should check their current policies and handbook to make sure you are in compliance with this ruling.