This summer, the Michigan Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that will be of great interest to the LGBTQ community in and around Saginaw. The way the court rules could decide if Michigan’s workers can be subject to employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
What discrimination is banned?
Currently, everyone agrees that the state’s 1976 civil rights law prevents discrimination based on a person’s membership in one of several “protected classes,” which include:
- Skin color
- Family status
- Marital status
The last category is key. LGBTQ activists and many legal observers contend that “sex” means more than the gender a person was assigned at birth. They interpret “sex” to also include sexual orientation, as well as gender identity for trans individuals. The Michigan Department of Human Rights agrees. Since 2018, it has taken complaints of LGBTQ discrimination based on this interpretation of the law.
The underlying case
The case that could solidify this policy in Michigan law involves a lawsuit filed by two local businesses against the Department of Human Rights. The businesses both denied service to LGBTQ customers, which the business owners claim was due to the owners’ religious beliefs. Though the facts of the lawsuit do not involve an employment dispute, the court’s ruling will likely impact whether employees who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or queer can fight back against discriminatory hiring, firing or employment practices.
Federal law currently recognizes anti-employment discrimination protection for LGBTQ workers, based on the 1964 Civil Rights Act’s prohibition of sex discrimination. But having the same protection at the state level would give workers another, potentially less expensive tool in their arsenal.