- U.S. Pastor Council, a Houston-based coalition of Christian pastors, and Hotze Health & Wellness Center, a Houston area health center, have sued the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), challenging its guidance regarding employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
- The plaintiffs filed a class action complaint on behalf of others similarly situated, alleging that because EEOC's guidance on the issue fails to make "any exemptions or accommodations for churches or corporations that oppose homosexual or transgender behavior on religious grounds," the commission's position violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment. The plaintiffs also sued the U.S., alleging that Title VII's statutory exemptions for religious employers are "constitutionally insufficient."
- The suit seeks a declaratory judgment affirming the violations alleged, as well as an injunction preventing the federal government from enforcing anti-discrimination policies of the type named in the suit against an employer "that objects to homosexual or transgender behavior on religious grounds."
The suit challenges one of the more active areas of employment law in recent years — sexual orientation discrimination — with a circuit split yet to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court. But it also points of the issue of transgender discrimination in the workplace, an issue similarly unresolved at the appellate level.
U.S. Pastor Council previously supported a bill in the Texas House of Representatives that would have required transgender individuals in the state to use bathrooms corresponding to their gender at birth, but the bill failed, according to Houston public radio outlet KUT.
Title VII prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex and/or national origin. It's the definition of "sex," however, that has split courts on the issue of LGBTQ discrimination. The lack of a definitive federal ruling has created a potential compliance pitfall. EEOC maintains that Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity, despite opposition from the Trump administration. The confusion is compounded by the fact that many employees may assume they are protected from sexual orientation discrimination under federal law.
But despite some risks, many employers have have opted to include LGBT status in their nondiscrimination and anti-harassment policies and training. Others have worked to create an inclusive environment; encouraging management to communicate with transgender workers in the event of a transition, for example, can go a long way in promoting a culture of understanding, one attorney previously told HR Dive.