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Hurwitz Law Highlights Sexual Orientation Legal Protections During Gay Pride Month

On Behalf of | Jun 7, 2023 | Firm News

History of Pride Month

In the 1960’s, the Stonewall Inn was a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in a world where their very identity was criminalized; however, on June 28, 1969, police raided the inn, arresting and assaulting patrons in the process. This violence incited resistance in the community, provoking a five-day uprising led by trans women of color Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. To honor the Stonewall Uprising, the last Sunday in June was declared “Gay Pride Day.” As support for the LGBTQ+ community expanded, so did the celebration, eventually encompassing the entire month of June which we now call Pride Month. During this month, parades and other special events take place to honor the decades-long struggle that LGBTQ+ individuals have faced.

Since the Stonewall Uprising, there have been many major feats in the fight against LGBTQ+ discrimination. Two recent accomplishments include expansions of the protected categories in both Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 (ELCRA).

Understanding Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

At its creation, Title VII aimed to protect employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. This prevented employers from implementing any adverse employment actions for reasons unrelated to the job. In a landmark 2020 decision, the United States Supreme Court decision ruled that the protections afforded in Title VII extend to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Specifically, the court argued that firing an employee for their sexual orientation or gender identity amounts to firing them for traits that would not be questioned in individuals of another sex. This ruling significantly strengthens anti-discrimination cases and expands the understanding of sex-based discrimination.

ELCRA’s New Amendment

Similar to Title VII, Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976 prohibited discrimination in employment, housing, public services, and education based on these protected categories: religion, race, color, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, familial or marital status.

On March 16, 2023, Governor Gretchen Whitmer signed an amendment to ELCRA, officially adding “sexual orientation” and “gender identity or expression” as protected categories. The amendment codified the 2022 Michigan Supreme Court ruling, which ruled that  [d]iscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily constitutes discrimination because of sex.” Rouch World, LLC v Dept of Civil Rights, 510 Mich 398, 433; 987 NW2d 501 (2022). The court reasoned that a person’s own sexual orientation is typically determined in reference to their own sex and therefore discrimination against orientation is inherently linked to discrimination based on sex.

Hurwitz Law and the National Fight Against Discrimination

These added protections come at a critical time when LGBTQ+ individuals across the nation are at risk of losing their hard-fought rights. According to the ACLU, there are over 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills currently advancing through various legislatures. While many states do not have anti-discrimination laws in place covering sexual orientation and gender identity, 49 states have laws covering either “sex” or “gender.” Based on the recent interpretations of both Title VII and ELCRA, it seems optimistic that other states may expand their sex-based discrimination language as well.

Nearly half of LGBTQ+ workers have experienced unfair treatment at work. While discrimination at work can be overt or serve, including refusal to hire, refusal to promote, termination, or harassment after an employer learns an employee is part of the LGBTQ+ community, it can often be very subtle. This can include inadequate healthcare coverage for LGBTQ+ people that may have different healthcare needs from their coworkers, unsafe or inaccessible bathrooms, or a toxic workplace culture that permits negative comments, slurs or jokes about LGBTQ+ people at work. Here at Hurwitz Law, we are committed to advocating for the rights of all people. If you believe that you are being discriminated against based on your sexual orientation or gender identity, we encourage you to reach out to us at [email protected].