The Michigan Civil Rights Commission has taken significant action to clarify that its state statute prohibiting discrimination in employment on the basis of sex (among other characteristics) extends to prohibit employment discrimination based on orientation and gender identity:
The Michigan Civil Rights Commission voted 5-0 to approve a statement legally interpreting the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act’s ban on “discrimination because of . . . sex” to include discrimination against sexual orientation or gender identity . . .
The idea of an interpretive statement from the commission, initially requested by Equality Michigan last year, was revived after the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of a transgender woman who said she was illegally fired by a funeral home in Garden City while transitioning from male to female . . .
The [Michigan Department of Civil Rights] will begin taking complaints related to sexual orientation or gender-based discrimination.
Regular readers of our blog will be familiar with this particular legal issue, as we have previously discussed the question of whether bans on sex discrimination necessarily also ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the context of federal law. This legal question is a hot topic in employment litigation in federal courts across the country. Because of widely divergent outcomes in federal district and circuit courts across the country in addressing this question, we will likely have to wait until the U.S. Supreme Court weighs in to have a definitive interpretation of federal law.
Irrespective of the federal question, however, there appears to be a trend toward states considering this issue in the context of their own non-discrimination laws. The Michigan Civil Rights Commission’s decision is similar to proposed guidance announced by the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission from late 2017. This development is important because a Supreme Court decision on this issue under federal law may not necessarily prove binding on states’ interpretations of state law.
We will, of course, continue to monitor this issue as it develops around the country.