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How far do federal sex discrimination protections extend?

The enactment of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 ushered in sweeping changes regarding work-related protections for American employees. Title VII of that law codified a bullet list of categories to be safeguarded against discriminatory workplace practices and behaviors.

One of those categories is sex. Courts across the country have reiterated in legions of cases since 1964 that employers may not discriminate against workers on the basis of sex.

Although that seems clear enough facially, the parameters of that protection have never been as broad as many people think. In fact, federal law as it currently stands does not bar employers from discriminating against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers.

Understandably, a wide swath of the American public wants to see a legal change that codifies protections for LGBT employees under Title VII. The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear a case later this year that will centrally address the issue.

In the interim, proposed federal law entitled the Equality Act is gaining considerable traction nationally. As one media report spotlighting the would-be law notes, it “would expressly include sexual orientation and gender identity” under the “sex” umbrella referenced in Title VII and other federal anti-discrimination laws.

The above article notes that a majority of states -- including Louisiana – have not passed laws to protect workers against both gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination.

Many commentators on the subject matter suggest that employers in those states might reasonably want to act now to stay a step ahead of legal changes that are likely coming, and relatively soon.

The professional human resources group SHRM is one proponent of proactivity. It states that, “As a best practice, employee handbooks and policies should include prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression and transgender status.”

Many employers understandably have questions or concerns about local, state and federal laws concerning workplace discrimination (and potential blowback from employees). They can contact a proven employment practices liability defense team for candid guidance and, when necessary, diligent legal representation.

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