The United States Supreme Court recently ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, a law that prevents discrimination in employment, extends to sexual orientation and gender identity. This means that federal law now protects people in the LGBT community from discrimination at work. Employees in California were already entitled to these protections before the Supreme Court made its decision, and they can now pursue claims under federal or state law for discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
What was surprising about the Supreme Court decision was that Justice Gorsuch, President Trump’s conservative nominee, wrote the majority decision. Judge Gorsuch wrote that, since Title VII protects individuals against discrimination based on sex, this necessarily extended to those who identify as LGBT, since they would not have been discriminated against had they been of the other gender.
The conservative justices who dissented from the opinion said that transgender and gay rights were not intended to be protected at the time the Civil Rights Act was written. Luckily, California’s legislature had already taken measures to ensure that these rights were protected under state law by enacting the Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA). Under FEHA, employees can file a claim for harassment, discrimination, or retaliation based on their LGBT status.
California is generally plaintiff-friendly, but it is especially so when it comes to discrimination law. If a plaintiff prevails on a FEHA claim, the plaintiff will automatically be entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees, which creates more incentive for employees and their attorneys to seek to vindicate their rights under FEHA. If an employee feels that he or she has been discriminated against at work – which could include being passed over for a promotion or paid less than a coworker of equal rank, among other things – that employee should consult with an employment law attorney.