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Ask Lambda Legal – The Equality Act

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August 12, 2015
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Greg Nevins, Lambda Legal Counsel and Workplace Fairness Program Strategist

Following the introduction of the Equality Act in July, questions have arisen about just how the bill is designed to protect LGBT people and its potential impact on employers, businesses and religious entities.  In an attempt to answer many of these questions, legal teams at Lambda Legal, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for American Progress, Family Equality Council, Human Rights Campaign, National Center for Transgender Equality, National LGBTQ Task Force Action Fund, SAGE and Transgender Law Center teamed up to develop a joint guide to understanding the act and its provisions.

Topics discussed include: employment, housing, education, credit, jury service and public accommodations.

Below are modified excerpts from the FAQ:

Q.  What does the Equality Act do?

A. The Equality Act prohibits discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity at work and in the context of housing, credit, education, and jury service. It also prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and sex in programs that receive federal funding and places of public accommodation, while also expanding the list of protected places of public accommodation to include retail stores, transportation services like airports, taxis and bus stations, and service providers like accountants.

Q.  Are religious entities covered under the Equality Act?

A. The Equality Act updates the law to add explicit protections for sexual orientation and gender identity to multiple, existing civil rights laws and adds protections against gender, gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination to federal laws covering public accommodations and federal funding. It does not change the religious exemptions already in place in federal law. Under current federal law, religious organizations may prefer to hire people of the same faith but may not discriminate in employment based on race, color, sex or national origin.  Religious organizations likewise may prefer people of the same faith when offering to sell, rent or allow the use of a dwelling for a non-commercial purpose, but they may not discriminate on other forbidden grounds when offering housing.

Q. How will the Equality Act impact an employer’s equal employment obligations under Title VII?

A. The Equality Act updates the federal employment nondiscrimination law (Title VII) by making explicit that sexual orientation and gender identity are protected characteristics, and makes clear that discrimination against LGBT people in hiring, firing, and promotions is unlawful. It also confirms that LGBT people must have access to all federal remedies currently available under Title VII.

This will not only protect LGBT people from discrimination, but it will also help eliminate uncertainty and confusion for businesses by providing employers and employees alike with confirmation that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are unlawful sex discrimination, and by providing clear rules that everyone knows and can follow.

To see the entire FAQ visit: http://www.lambdalegal.org/publications/20150723_equality-act-faq

This guidance is intended to provide general information.  It should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances, and does not create an attorney-client relationship.  None of the organizations publishing this information can ensure the information is current or be responsible for any use to which it is put.

If you have any questions, or feel you have been discriminated against because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at 1-866-542-8336, or see http://lambdalegal.org/help