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What employers should know about landmark decision on LGBTQ discrimination

The U.S. Supreme Court recently resolved a longstanding debate over whether Title VII, the federal employment discrimination law, covers LGBTQ employees (and prospective employees). The answer? Yes.

The decision

Title VII makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sex (in addition to other grounds such as race, national origin, or religion). Federal courts, as well as the federal government itself, had long been split on whether that protection extends to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In its June 15, 2020 opinion, Bostock v. Clayton County, the Supreme Court determined that Title VII's definition of sex discrimination includes discrimination based on transgender status and sexual orientation, just as it includes sexual harassment, discrimination against mothers, and other forms of sex-related discrimination.

What it means for employers

The practical impact for covered employers in Oregon and Washington isn't earth-shattering. Both states already prohibited discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity. However, employees (and prospective employees) now have rock-solid grounds to pursue federal claims-something that wasn't a sure thing before Bostock.

Practical steps to prevent liability

In light of the decision, it's a good time to refresh company policies and training materials to reflect the new clarity on Title VII.

Consider devoting a training session to gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination--what it is, what kinds of employer actions can amount to discrimination, and how to prevent it.

Employers should also update their internal complaint process to give LGBTQ employees an effective channel for reporting discrimination.

Finally, work with an experienced employment attorney to put strong, proactive measures into place.

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