On April 22, 2019, the Supreme Court granted certiorari in three cases that raise the question of whether Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.  In two of the cases, Altitude Express v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the Court will consider whether Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination protects individuals from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC, on the other hand, the Court will consider whether discrimination on the basis of gender identity is prohibited under Title VII.

In Zarda, the Second Circuit ruled that “because sexual orientation is a function of sex and sex is a protected characteristic under Title VII, it follows that sexual orientation is also protected.” Conversely, in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, the Eleventh Circuit rejected the argument that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination, setting up a circuit split that is ripe for SCOTUS review.

In Harris Funeral Homes, the Sixth Circuit ruled that gender identity discrimination is prohibited under Title VII.  In its order granting certiorari, the Supreme Court noted that its review of the Harris decision would be limited to the question of “whether Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people based on (1) their status as transgender or (2) sex stereotyping” under Supreme Court precedent.

Although states like New York and California expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, most states do not provide such protections.  As such, employees in those states may only look to federal law for protection.

Oral argument will be held in the fall, with decisions expected in 2020.

We will, of course, continue monitor developments in this area and provide updates as they become available.

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Photo of Arielle E. Kobetz Arielle E. Kobetz

Arielle E. Kobetz is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the Employment Counseling & Training Group. Her practice focuses on providing clients with strategies and counseling related to a variety of workplace-related disputes, including employee terminations…

Arielle E. Kobetz is an associate in the Labor & Employment Law Department and a member of the Employment Counseling & Training Group. Her practice focuses on providing clients with strategies and counseling related to a variety of workplace-related disputes, including employee terminations and discipline, leave and accommodation requests, and general employee relations matters. She also counsels clients on developing, implementing and enforcing personnel policies and procedures and reviewing and revising employee handbooks under federal, state and local law.

Prior to joining Proskauer, Arielle served as a law clerk at the New York City Human Resources Administration, Employment Law Unit, where she worked on a variety of employment discrimination and internal employee disciplinary issues.

Photo of Evandro Gigante Evandro Gigante

Evandro Gigante is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration group and the Hiring & Terminations group. He represents and counsels clients through a variety of labor and employment matters, including allegations of…

Evandro Gigante is a partner in the Labor & Employment Law Department and co-head of the Employment Litigation & Arbitration group and the Hiring & Terminations group. He represents and counsels clients through a variety of labor and employment matters, including allegations of race, gender, national origin, disability and religious discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful discharge, defamation and breach of contract. Evandro also counsels employers through reductions-in-force and advises clients on restrictive covenant issues, such as confidentiality, non-compete and non-solicit agreements.

With a focus on discrimination and harassment matters, Evandro has extensive experience representing clients before federal and state courts. He has tried cases in court and before arbitrators and routinely represents clients before administrative agencies such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as state and local human rights commissions.