What’s the Equality Act?

Some big news in employment law happened when the Equality Act passed in the House of Representatives.  Although the Equality Act passed in the House of Representatives before, it unfortunately never made it further than that. Both versions of the Equality Act are essentially the same and set out to accomplish the same goal:expanding anti-discrimination laws to include protections for people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Here are some things to know about the Equality Act and how it could affect you and your workplace.


What does the Equality Act change?

If the Equality Act becomes a law, it will act as an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Two major changes to the employment law section of Title VII are that “sex” would be replaced with “sex(including sexual orientation and gender identity” and the bona fide occupational qualification would be modified to say that an individuals qualifications should be based on their gender identity. These changes are long overdue and are crucial to protecting workers in America’s changing workplace. 


Why do we need the Equality Act?

Last year, the Supreme Court handed down a landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. In Bostock, the Court found that Title VII protects employees from discrimination on the basis of the sexual orientation or gender identity.  Supreme Court decisions have nationwide impact, so some people may think that the Equality Act is not necessary.  However, an amendment to Title VII would make the employee protections more clear on the face of the law as opposed to being at the mercy of Supreme Court precedent or constant challenges to the decision. 


What’s the next step for the Equality Act?

Since the Equality Act has now passed the House,  it moves to the Senate.  The 2019 version did not make it to the Senate floor, but all signs point to this version making it. Once it passes the Senate, President Biden would likely sign and make it law.  There is a competing bill called the Fairness for All Act, which purports to be similar to the Equality Act.  The  key difference between the two is while the Equality Act makes it harder for entities to claim a religious exemption, the Fairness for All Act makes it easier.  What we will likely see is some combination of the two in the final law.

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James J. Hux is the Owner and Sole Attorney at Hux Law Firm, LLC. His practice areas include employment discrimination and general civil litigation throughout the State of Ohio.