On June 15, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination against gay, lesbian or transgender employees based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, who authored the opinion, wrote that “we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear.” He further said, “An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
The Maine Human Rights Act had already been amended several years ago to prohibit discrimination on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. Gender identity is defined under that law as “the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s assigned sex at birth”.
Although Maine employers should already have been prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, it would be wise now in light of this decision to ensure that:
- Workplace policies pertaining to non-discrimination and equal employment opportunity specifically prohibit discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression;
- Such policies are in effect and communicated to employees;
- Such categories are included in any employee harassment prevention training;
- Supervisors/managers are aware of this coverage and all employment related decisions are made without regard to sexual orientation, gender identity/expression, or any other condition covered by this law.