The United States Supreme Court begins its term each year on the first Monday of October. Yesterday, on its second day in session, it heard argument on three of the most important cases of the term, which ask whether federal law, specifically Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Court’s decisions on these cases will not only directly affect hundreds of thousands of people, they will establish the direction in which the law will evolve on a number of other issues having to do with protections for LGBT Americans.
The issue and the argument have been exhaustively covered elsewhere, so we don’t write on this subject to add to that. What we want to point out is the difference between state and federal laws on many subjects, including this one.
In a number of states across the country, there are no protections whatsoever for gay or transgender employees, and until recently no federal agency or federal court had ruled that Title VII provided any such protections. That began to change in 2015, when the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reversed its previous position, and since then federal appellate courts have begun to swing toward that interpretation of the law. (The United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which includes Minnesota, is not among them.) The Minnesota Human Rights Act, however, has prohibited such discrimination since 1993.
Why is this worth mentioning? It underscores the importance of talking to a lawyer when you’re concerned that an employer may have engaged in discrimination. Many people use Google to search for information about possible legal remedies when they feel they’ve been the victim of discrimination. Google is free, quick, and easy, so we understand why it’s the first place people turn to. On subjects like this, however, it’d be easy to give up on a valid claim by seeing that federal law doesn’t provide a remedy for this type of discrimination without discovering that Minnesota law clearly does.
At Godwin Adkins, we have many years of experience representing employees who have suffered discrimination “on the basis of sex” – and any other basis recognized by local, state, and federal law.