Maybe. As our loyal readers know, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 provides, in relevant part, that “It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer…to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sexual, or national origin[.]” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a)(1). The United States Supreme Court has also held that gender identity discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination are forms of gender discrimination that are protected under Title VII.
But what happens when a business owner’s religious beliefs are used to discriminate against an employee based on that employee’s gender identity? Recently, a federal appeals court in New Orleans made a significant ruling in a case that pitted a company’s religious liberty against Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit delivered a mixed ruling against LGBTQ+ workers in Braidwood Management, Incorporated v. EEOC demonstrating the delicate balance between religious freedom and equal protection under the law.
This new decision comes three years after LGBTQ+ employees secured a landmark win in the case Bostock v. Clayton County. In that case, the United States Supreme Court decided gay and transgender workers can sue their employers under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act for bias based on gender identity and sexual orientation. Although the Bostock decision extended Title VII protections to LGBTQ+ community, it also identified routes religious employers could take to shield themselves from Title VII discrimination liability. One such route is through a Title VII religious exemption.
Taking a cue from the Bostock court, Texas-based health-care provider Braidwood Management Inc. and Bear Creek Bible Church filed a complaint against the EEOC, demanding a religious exemption. The businesses claimed Title VII as interpreted by Bostock and subsequent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) guidance documents violate their religious liberty by preventing them from operating in accordance with what they believe the Bible teaches about homosexuality. In other words, religious employers want permission to discriminate against employees who are not perceived to exemplify biblical writings.
Braidwood operated several health-related businesses as “Christian businesses” which will not employ individuals who engage in behavior the owner considers sexually immoral or gender non-conforming, nor does the owner allow Braidwood to recognize homosexual marriage, which the owner stated would “lend approval to homosexual behavior and make him complicit in sin.” Braidwood also enforces a sex-specific dress code that disallows gender non-conforming behavior. Bear Creek is a nondenominational church whose bylaws do not recognize same-sex marriage and will not hire “practicing homosexuals, bisexuals, crossdressers, or transgender or gender non-conforming individuals.” The legal platform presented to support the company owners’ desire to discriminate were based on federal law and policy that all Americans approve of: The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, The Free-Exercise Clause, and The First Amendment.
The historically conservative court ruled in favor of the company, asserting that the companies’ owners’ religious freedom takes precedence over Title VII’s non-discrimination protections as long as the employer had a sincerely held religious belief that the actions of the employees in question were immoral. Unless the Supreme Court agrees to review this decision, it will likely result in additional claims by private companies asserting their owners’ religious beliefs as grounds for exemption from EEOC enforcement of Title VII claims based on LGBTQ+ status.
It is also important to remember that this is just one of 12 circuit courts of appeal and that other courts may rule differently. Our employment discrimination lawyers will continue to monitor the situation and report on any new cases.
From a critical standpoint, the court’s decision risks undermining the progress made in protecting LGBTQ+ rights. By allowing religious beliefs to override these protections, the court’s ruling may embolden discriminatory practices and create a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ individuals. Thankfully, the Bostock decision still applies to secular employers, which are the vast majority of employers.
Best Sexual Orientation And Gender Identity Lawyer Blogs on Point:
- What does Bostock v. Clayton County mean to the LGBTQ Community?
- Can I Be Terminated For Refusing To Address Transgender People By Their Chosen Names And Pronouns?
- Gender Identity Discrimination Is Wrong And Illegal In The Workplace
- Are Churches Allowed To Discriminate In Employment?
- Can My Church Refuse To Hire Gay Cooks? Best LGBT Lawyer Help!
Do I have a claim for LGBTQ+ discrimination or harassment?
Best LGBTQ Employment Rights Lawyer Answer: Don’t be discouraged by bad court decisions. Our sexual orientation and transgender employment law attorneys are dedicated to making sure that you are protected on your job if you are a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, asexual, queer, or questioning. If you have been wrongfully fired or discriminated against simply because you are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer, gender neutral, non-binary, agender, pangender, genderqueer, two-spirit, or third gender; then it would be best to call the right attorney to schedule a free and confidential consultation. (Read: What is the Spitz No Fee Guarantee?) Call our Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and North Carolina attorneys now to get help or advice. Your employment rights are constantly changing and the best way to find out if you can sue your boss, manager, supervisor or employer for discrimination, harassment, or wrongful termination is to call Spitz, The Employee’s Law Firm and talk to its attorneys, who are experienced and dedicated to protecting the rights of employees just like you.
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