Millions of workers throughout the United States, including many right here in Kentucky, now benefit from another layer of workplace discrimination protection following a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court.
In a 6-3 decision announced June 15, 2020, the justices ruled that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This means employers are explicitly barred from discriminating against an employee or job applicant because that individual identifies as LGBT or transgender.
How this ruling affects Kentucky
This decision came from the U.S. Supreme Court. That means it applies across the country. For many states, including Kentucky, this represents a significant change.
Kentucky is one of 27 states that has no laws of their own barring employment discrimination against individuals because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This means that, previously, if someone was fired or demoted because they were gay, for example, that individual had no legal recourse.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling changes this. Now, LGBT and trans employees or job candidates in Kentucky who are discriminated against in this way can look to federal law for protection.
There are still some unanswered questions
The Supreme Court’s ruling does not address a few particular situations.
For one, the Civil Rights Act only applies to employers with 15 or more employees. This means workers at small businesses may not be afforded these new protections. And as always, employment decisions based on non-protected factors, such as job performance, remain acceptable, regardless of the individual’s orientation or identity.
There are also questions about how religious beliefs might apply. Will a faith-based employer be able to refuse to hire an LGBT or trans individual, for example, because it goes against their religious beliefs? That is still to be determined. There are also legal cases regarding bathroom and locker room use working their way through the courts.
Still, this recent decision represents a potential milestone. For tens of thousands of workers in Kentucky, as well as their loved ones and family, the ruling may provide a small sense of relief going forward.