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Two take away lessons from recent LGBTQ discrimination case

It is illegal for an employer to discriminate against someone based on their sex—but what does this mean? Society’s definition of sex is much different now than it was in previous generations. Did the lawmakers intend for the law to cover our definition of sex, or the definition used by previous generations? The question is not an easy one to answer and is one that has led to multiple legal disputes. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) recently ruled on a case that questioned this issue.

Before we delve into the reach of the law, it is important to understand which employers are impacted by the law. The law defines an employer, for these purposes, as those that have more than fifteen employees working for twenty or more calendar weeks in current or preceding calendar years. It is important to note that in addition to federal protections, many states also have local protections. These laws may result in additional protection that goes beyond the scope of the federal laws discussed here.

Now, on to a discussion about the case at hand. The case questioned whether or not an employer could fire an employee based solely on the basis of the employee identifying as gay, lesbian or transgendered. Ultimately, the court stated employers were guilty of illegal discrimination if a negative employment decision was based solely on the employee’s sex. It did not matter what the employee’s sex was. All that mattered was that the employer’s decision was motivated by this singular issue. As a result, SCOTUS held the law extended these protections to the LGBTQ community.

What does this mean for employees who are the subject of discrimination based on sexual orientation?

There are three take away lessons from this case:

  • Federal law offers protection. Even if state law does not protect those who are victims of discrimination based on sexual orientation, SCOTUS’ holding means federal law does offer protection.
  • Cases can take time. Unfortunately, two of the three victims that moved forward with these cases passed away before the final holding. They were never able to enjoy their success. However, their focus and determination has led to the protections they were hoping to achieve.

Although these cases can lead to compensation for lost wages and employment opportunities, they can also play an important role in shifting the focus of our communities and helping to make our neighborhoods more inclusive.