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Court rulings narrow gap between California and federal employment laws

On Behalf of | Aug 10, 2020 | Employment Law

As many of our Glendale Legal Blog readers know, the U.S. Supreme Court has in recent days made a pair of decisions that narrowed the gap between California’s and the federal government’s laws regarding discrimination in the workplace.

The Supreme Court’s landmark 6-3 decision extended protection from discrimination to LGBTQ employees – protection long provided under California law.

However, the court also expanded immunity from federal discrimination lawsuits for religious employers – protection that has also long been extended by California.

Gap in protections for LGBTQ workers

Before the recent ruling in Bostock v Clayton County, the divide between California law and federal statutes on LGBTQ workplace rights was huge. The state’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) specifically prohibits employment discriminate based on gender, gender identity and gender expression.

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against discrimination on the basis of “sex,” but provides no express protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

The court’s position explained

The Supreme Court’s Bostock decision states that employers who fire a worker because that person is gay or transgender are in violation of Title VII.

Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that “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 court said it doesn’t matter that 56 years ago, no one thought a ban on discrimination on the basis of “sex” also meant a ban on discrimination against gay and transgender employees.

The ruling effectively gave LBGTQ workers nationwide the same protections they’ve had for years in our state.

On the other hand . . .

In a case rooted in a dispute in Los Angeles, the court voted 7-2 in Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru to bar employment discrimination claims by two elementary school teachers.

One teacher had filed an age discrimination claim and the other had filed a claim based on the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act).

The court decided that Title VII and the ADA provide exceptions for ““religious employers to give preference to members of a particular faith.” The decision gives those particular employers protection already granted here by California law.

Of course, workplace protections are most effective when enforcement is not left up to state and federal governments. Justice won’t wait. Workers who have endured unlawful discrimination can take action by contacting an employment law attorney.

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