The U.S. Supreme Court announced it will hear three cases regarding whether Title VII, the federal law prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  The result is expected to be landmark decisions settling questions in employment law that have persisted for decades.

It is difficult to imagine that when Title VII was enacted in 1964, Congress intended to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.  Therefore, the Supreme Court’s decision will need to resolve the tension between evolving national norms and the historical intent of the legislation.

In one of the cases to be reviewed, a New York skydiving instructor was fired after telling a female client that he was gay so she did not need to worry about being strapped against him during the dive.  The Second Circuit held that Title VII protected the skydiving instructor from discrimination on the basis of his sexual orientation.

In another case to be reviewed, the Sixth Circuit held that transgender discrimination was discrimination because of sex.  In that case, an employee of a funeral home was terminated for planning to transition from male to female, changing to a female name and manner of dress.

In the third case, the Eleventh Circuit held that it was not unlawful sex discrimination to fire a social worker because he was gay.

Employers in Connecticut may watch the activity at the U.S. Supreme Court with interest, but their own activities are not affected by these decisions because Connecticut state law explicitly makes it unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.  Accordingly, even if the U.S. Supreme Court determines that federal law does not afford such protections, employers in Connecticut still cannot discriminate on these protected bases because of the state law.

The Labor and Employment attorneys at Berchem Moses PC can help employers keep up to date on the evolving interpretations of state and federal law impacting the workplace.