In a highly anticipated ruling, in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, U.S. Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in favor of a cake shop owner who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple because of his religious beliefs. The case highlights the potentially conflicting intersection of religious freedoms and anti-discrimination laws; i.e. the right to hold sincere religious beliefs and the right to be treated equally and without discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation. READ MORE
After agreeing last week on a 2016-17 Executive Budget that includes several key labor and employment provisions, New York State Independent Democratic Caucus Leader Jeffrey Klein declared that “[t]his truly is the Year of the Worker.” The ground breaking bills include an increase of the New York State minimum wage over the next few years to $15 per hour and paid family leave for employees for up to 12 weeks when caring for an infant, family member with a serious health condition or to relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service. The New York City Council was also busy on the employment front last week, passing several changes to the New York City Human Rights Law that impact New York City employers. These recent State and City legislative developments are summarized below.
Earlier this month, the EEOC filed its first lawsuits against employers alleging sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII, arguing that Title VII’s protections extend to sexual orientation as a form of gender bias. In the lawsuit against Scott Medical Health Center filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the EEOC alleges that a gay male employee was subjected to harassment, including anti-gay epithets, because of his sexual orientation. In the suit against Pallet Companies d/b/a/ IFCO Systems filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the EEOC alleges that a supervisor harassed a lesbian employee because of her sexual orientation, including making numerous comments about her sexual orientation and appearance. The EEOC alleges that the employers violated Title VII, which extends protection to workers who are discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. In both cases, the EEOC takes the position that sexual orientation discrimination necessarily entails treating employees less favorably because of their sex, thus triggering Title VII’s protections.
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.