Sapphire Legal discusses the classes protected under Title VII.

Title VII Protected Classes: Where We Stand Today

Discrimination in the workplace is against the law. Federal and state laws protect employees from discrimination based on a variety of factors. Some states have expanded discrimination laws beyond the protections in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also, current federal court cases appear to be expanding the interpretation of some of the protections in Title VII. If you are unsure whether you are a victim of employment discrimination, you can contact a Washington employment discrimination attorney for help.

The Original Five Protected Classes

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination based on five classes — race, sex, color, national origin, and religion. Federal protections have been expanded since the law was enacted to include age, citizenship status, genetic information, pregnancy, and veteran status. There are also federal statutes that protect employees who are disabled from employment discrimination.

Many states have also enacted employment discrimination laws. Some states expand the basic classes that are protected from discrimination in the workplace. Washington law provides employment discrimination protection to a wider group of individuals. Currently, classes protected from discrimination by Washington state laws are:

  • Age (40 years and older)
  • Sex
  • Race
  • Maternity and pregnancy
  • Color
  • Creed
  • Use of service animals by individuals with a disability
  • Disability or appearance of disability
  • Marital status
  • AIDS, HIV, and Hepatitis C status
  • Honorably discharged veteran or military service
  • Sexual orientation or gender identity 
  • National origin

States may have led the way in expanding the classes that are protected from employment discrimination, but recent federal court cases are seeking to expand federal protections to the LGBTQ community as well.

Federal Courts Disagree Concerning LGBTQ Protections

The federal courts do not agree on whether Title VII protections extend to the LGBTQ community. The Eleventh and Fifth Circuits have ruled in several cases that Title VII protection does not extend to discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

However, the Second, Sixth, and Seventh circuits have heard cases involving discrimination based on sexual orientation and ruled in favor of the employee. The courts have held that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination in several cases. Washington federal court cases are appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which is known to be more liberal than other Federal Appeals Courts. The Ninth Circuit would likely follow the other appellate courts and expand protections to the LGBTQ community as well. However, the Supreme Court is expected to settle the issue soon, as discussed below.

The U.S. Supreme Court Set to Resolve Discrepancies 

The Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on October 8, 2019. The issue before the court is whether Title VII prohibits employment discrimination against transgender people. Until a final vote and opinion are issued, we continue to wait to see what the justices do regarding the expansion of employment discrimination protection based on sexual orientation.

At the same time, there is federal legislation pending in the U.S. House of Representatives that would expand the protections against employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation. However, it is uncertain whether the Senate will take up the proposed legislation.

Contact a Washington Employment Attorney for Help

The laws regarding employment discrimination continue to expand. However, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure that all employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace. If you have questions or concerns about employment discrimination, contact a Washington employment discrimination attorney for help.