How Is Sexual Orientation Becoming A Protected Class?
Before the Civil Rights Act (CRA) became law, individuals faced discrimination based on race, sex, religion, and national origin. At first, the word “sex” was added to focus on discrimination against women.
Yet over the years, sex discrimination extended to gender discrimination. However, with the recent progression in LGBT rights, some courts interpret the protection to cover discrimination based on sexual orientation. Now, the courts are beginning to place LGBT individuals in a protected class.
But what if the CRA is not amended to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination? What basis can the courts use to extend protection? Can the courts extend protections in a state that does not enact protections for sexual orientation?
Why Is It Important To Be Considered A Protected Class and How Do You Become Protected?
In the beginning, race and color were the only protected classes. Over time, women, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, and a slew of other classes gained protected. But, they were not all protected through the CRA. Groups such veterans, pregnant individuals, and disability became protected through other types of legislation without amending the CRA.
So, do you really need to amend the CRA?
There Is No Need For An Explicit Law. But To Begin, the First Step Was Basis Extend the Protection for Transgender Individuals.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) established Title VII of the CRA. It prohibits discrimination because of the individual’s sex. To discriminate because someone identifies as a gender other than assigned at birth, is to discriminate because of their sex. Discrimination against a transgender is gender identity discrimination and so is prohibited under Title VII.
The EEOC focuses on the precise wording of Title VII. The law “prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex….”. The conditional words are what the EEOC and the courts focus on for the basis of extending protection.
The courts applied the same reasoning used in sex discrimination cases involving heterosexual women. The courts found a demand for a female employee to “dress more femininely” to be “sex stereotyping.” The act of stereotyping because of sex violates Title VII.
Extending protection to transgender individuals was a first step in protecting sexual orientation as a class. Soon the courts applied “because of” and “sex stereotyping” to their reasoning.
Applying “Sex Stereotype” And “Because Of” Reasoning to Sexual Orientation Discrimination.
Due to the evolving and growing understanding of sex and gender, the courts apply the concept of “non-conforming gender behavior.” Describing situations like a heterosexual female employee who dresses in a masculine way to a male employee who exclusively dates other men.
Our understanding of sex and gender are evolving. Now, some courts apply the concept of “non-conforming gender behavior.” Like situations like a heterosexual female employee who dresses in a masculine way. A male employee who exclusively dates other men.
If the employee faced discrimination because of the sex stereotype that women should wear feminine clothing and men should only date women, then they were discriminated because of their sex. If the female employee was male, then she would not have faced discrimination. The same logic applies to the male employee.
The majority of cases deciding that sexual orientation discrimination violates Title VII came in recent years. It was a long awaited step towards equality for individuals who have lived as second class citizens based upon who they love or what they feel.
In the End, the Courts Applied the Same Logic To Sexual Orientation Discrimination.
In 2015, the Supreme Court held that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. The legal system filled with cases of individuals seeking protection from sexual orientation discrimination.
Since the Supreme Court found legal and statutory basis for same-sex marriage, the lower courts could find a basis for sexual orientation discrimination in Title VII. However, there is no federal statutory law that explicitly states there is a protected right for same-sex marriage. Due to the slow legislative process in Congress, it will may take years, or decades, before it becomes law.
Many argue that the CRA must be amended to make sexual orientation a protected class. But many accepted protected classes only reached that level after social acceptance. In the end, it is only a matter of time before sexual orientation becomes a protected class.