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New Supreme Court ruling protects LGBTQ workers from discrimination in the workplace

Updated: Jun. 15, 2020 at 7:44 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Workers across the Mid-South woke up with more rights than they did the night before. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling determined employers cannot discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

It’s a major step forward for the LGBTQ community and marks an important milestone in the Mid-South.

“We’ve long had a joke in our community that you can get married on a Saturday and fired on a Monday,” OUTMemphis Executive Director Molly Quinn said.

Millions of LGBTQ workers across the country now have protection from discrimination in the workplace. The Supreme Court issued its ruling Monday saying in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

For members of the community in Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi, it’s the first time these protections have been granted to them. The three states do not have already adopted provisions protecting LGBTQ people from employment discrimination.

“Most states actually don’t have employment protections,” University of Memphis Law Professor Steven Mulroy said.

Tennessee and Arkansas have a human rights act that protects employees from being discriminated against because of their sex. Mulroy said the state statute doesn’t have to be changed.

“But if the federal law applies, if it’s a large enough employer and there is that kind of discrimination whether it’s in Nashville or LA an employee will be able to sue,” Mulroy said.

Mulroy said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act is for a company of 15 or more people.

The federal law goes into effect immediately. Memphis employment lawyer Alan Crone is already planning on using the statute in a pending case.

“We’ve been waiting on this decision to see how strong her case is going to be,” said Crone. “She’s a transgendered person. So that case will move forward now.”

Crone says in his 30 years with his practice, numerous people have tried to sue on the ground of discrimination because of sexual orientation and gender identity, but did not have a case. Now they do.

Quinn said this ruling can help members of the LGBTQ community to avoid discrimination in other areas.

“Having a job means you have better access to healthcare, having a job means you have better access to housing,” Quinn said.

More than just avoid it, Quinn said the fight for equal rights for the LGBTQ community continues. The group also continues to fight for everyone’s rights.

Faith Morris with the National Civil Rights Museum said LGBTQ advocates have helped in the fight for civil rights of all people, including in the most current movement against police brutality. Both the LGBTQ community’s involvement in the civil rights movement and details on the Civil Rights Act are focal points in the museum.

“The Civil Rights Bill, the law that was passed, included civil rights for people of many different categories,” Morris said. “So I think we as citizens should do is familiarize ourselves or learn about it to understand what that bill said then and apply that to what it needs to say now.”

Mulroy said the new definition of “on the basis of sex” can mean more changes at the federal, state and local levels.

“We’re probably going to have more and more openness that we shouldn’t be doing that in housing discrimination or discrimination in respect to credit, adoptions all the different areas where there currently is discrimination on those grounds right now,” said Mulroy.

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