On December 21, 2015, the New York City Commission on Human Rights (Commission) issued Legal Enforcement Guidance (Guidance) clarifying New York City’s prohibitions against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. Discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment, housing and public accommodations has been illegal under the New York City Human Rights Law (NYCHRL) since 2002. According to the accompanying press release, the Guidance is intended to make clear, through specific examples, what the Commission considers gender identity and gender expression discrimination under the City law and to offer best practices to employers and other stakeholders on how to comply with the law. The Guidance also solidifies New York City’s place as having one of the most protective laws in the country for transgender and other gender non-conforming individuals.
On the heels of the landmark decision by the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage, the EEOC held on July 15, 2015 that sex discrimination under Title VII includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Even though the decision is not binding precedent in federal court, and runs contrary to a significant body of case law holding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it could be regarded by some courts as persuasive authority. The decision could also have an impact on employers in the form of an increased number of administrative charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC based on sexual orientation, as courts determine whether to adopt the EEOC’s interpretation.
Following the excitement of the same-sex marriage decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 26th, the question remains how much the Opinion may impact Title VII employment discrimination claims. Based on our reading of the Obergefell v. Hodges decision, and the many states that have passed legislation protecting employees from sexual-orientation discrimination, we recommend that employers revisit and update their anti-discrimination policies.