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Michigan adds 2 protected categories to state civil rights law

On Behalf of | Oct 12, 2023 | Employment Law

Last year, the Michigan Supreme Court ruled that the state’s law prohibiting discrimination based on sex can be assumed include both sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The law at the heart of the case, the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, addresses discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations.

Now, that ruling will be part of the law. Related legislation was passed, largely along political party lines, and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed it into law earlier this year. It takes effect early next year. In the meantime, however, the Michigan high court’s ruling makes these kinds of discrimination illegal.

By codifying the ruling into law, however, Michigan’s political majority has ensured that these protections will be more difficult to undo than they would be if they were based solely on a court ruling. Gov. Whitmer noted in signing the bill into law that we’re in the midst of a “nationwide assault on our LGBTQ-plus community, especially our trans neighbors, family and friends.”

Law codifies and protects Michigan Supreme Court ruling

Michigan, which is an outlier in including weight and height among its protected categories, also currently prohibits employments discrimination based on age, color, familial and marital status, national origin, race, religion and sex. However, it has been one of the majority of states that doesn’t specifically include sexual orientation or gender identity among those categories.

The law prohibits employers from being able to “[f]ail or refuse to hire or recruit, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to employment, compensation, or a term, condition, or privilege of employment” based on any of these protected characteristics. One of the lawmakers who sponsored the original Michigan civil rights law back in 1976 and who is one of the people for whom it’s named, noted at the bill signing this year that the law’s original intent was “that every citizen of Michigan has the right to be protected….”

What if an employer doesn’t follow the law?

Codifying these protections into state law is critical. However, employers don’t always adhere to the law. They can often find ways to discriminate against applicants and employees in a way that makes proving their intent very challenging. That’s why anyone who believes they’ve suffered illegal discrimination and hasn’t been able to resolve the issue with their employer or potential employer is wise to seek legal guidance to determine the options they may have available to them in re: justice and compensation.