Supreme Court Ruling on LGBTQ Rights: What It Means for Employers

It is important that employers are aware that LGBTQ rights ruling has pushed workplace dynamics in motion. The Supreme Court has made decisions that give plaintiffs leverage, and companies both large and small are still expected to face legal cases over their policies.

A Walmart employee Jacquline Cote, filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2014 contending that the company was discriminating against her by denying health insurance benefits to her same-sex spouse. In 2016, Mrs. Cote reached a settlement with Walmart over the denial of health benefits for her spouse, Diana Smithson. The company agreed to a settlement compensating Ms. Cote and other employees affected by the denial of spousal benefits.

Even before the ruling, employers were moving toward nondiscrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, prompted by state laws, significant E.E.O.C. rulings in 2012 and 2015, and federal appellate decisions since then.

The Effects in the Workplace

Now, many companies have implemented rules regarding sexual orientation and gender identity within hiring, firing or promotion decisions, and providing same-sex spousal benefits; and most employers now offer insurance extended health benefits to same-sex spouses.

About 200 companies, including Google, Facebook, Hilton, Nike and the Walt Disney Company, signed a brief for one of the largest instances of employer support for employee plaintiffs in Supreme Court litigation.

Support for the brief was often propelled by advocacy by companies’ gay employees.

In 2015, the Supreme Court’s ruled that same-sex couples had a constitutional right to marry, so it is crucial for companies to have inclusive human resources policies in place that reflect LGBTQ rights.

Why the LGBTQ Ruling Matters

All of this has affected not simply one-off workplace developments like hiring and firing, but the daily quality of life many employees experience. Employment discrimination includes being treated differently and workplace harassment, which LGBTQ individuals suffer at higher rates.

Keep in mind that even having legal protection nationwide does not mean that the LGBTQ community of workers are likely to be victorious. For the most part, plaintiffs still lose most discrimination cases in federal court, even though many strong cases settle before trial. However, there is now no longer a barrier between the court and these issues, so it is important that your clients are properly informed and protected.

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