Title VII in the 21st Century (article)
The scope of a law enacted over 50 years ago continues to evolve. The employment provisions of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides protections against discrimination in employment based on an individual’s race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age, disability or genetic information. Recent enforcement activity by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has broadened the applicability of Title VII’s sex discrimination provision to include protections based on an individual’s sexual orientation, albeit lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.
In the matter of Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.[(No. 1:15-cv-12945) (W.D. Mass. July 14, 2015]), a Wal-Mart employee filed a class action complaint against her employer for failure to provide health benefit coverage to her lawfully married same-sex spouse. According to the complaint, the employer did not offer health benefits to same-sex spouses until January, 2014. Coupled with the recent Supreme Court decision (see The Law of the Land: A Spouse is a Spouse, Benefit Beat, 7/3/15), employers should review their eligibility provisions of their employment policies and benefit plans with particular attention directed at whether spouses (same or opposite sex) are eligible to participate. As mentioned previously, any employer contemplating a limited definition of spouse should consult with legal counsel before taking any action.
In another Title VII case (Complainant v. Foxx, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133080, 2015 WL 4397641, July 16, 2015), an individual alleged that he was passed over for a permanent position with his employer because he was gay. In its interpretation, the EEOC concluded that sexual orientation is inherently a “sex-based consideration,” and thus, falls within the protections afforded under Title VII’s sex discrimination provision. The EEOC has recently issued guidance for employers in addressing sexual orientation in the workplace (see What You Should Know About EEOC and the Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers and the EEOC Publication: Gender Stereotyping).
In addition, new legislation has recently been introduced that would expand sexual orientation and gender identity protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other existing laws. The Equality Act (H. R. 3185) would bar discrimination based on sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation in public accommodations, housing, employment, federal funding, education, credit, and jury service.
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