Cases to Watch in 2020
Get prepared for some big developments in employment law in 2020. One key case should answer a longstanding question about whether Title VII protects a person from discrimination because of sexual orientation. The other key case may lead to real and systemic change in equal pay.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination
A trio of cases pending at the United State Supreme Court considers the issue of whether sexual orientation is a protected category under Title VII.
Title VII outlawed discrimination “because of” sex. What does that mean? If a person is gay or lesbian and is discriminated against at work, is that “because of” sex? In the past, most courts said no— sexual orientation was not protected under Title VII. So, an employee fired for being gay or lesbian had no legal claim he or she could pursue.
In recent years, some cases eroded those legal holdings. And, last year, 3 of those cases went to the Supreme Court. Now, the Supreme Court will make the final decision on this issue. We should get an opinion out of the Supreme Court on this issue before the end of June.
Right now, there really is no way to predict which way the court will go on this issue. However, if the Court finds that sexual orientation is not protected under Title VII, the next stop in this legal battle will likely be Congress. If the Supreme Court finds that sexual orientation is not covered by the law, it is likely that Congress will be lobbied to change the law.
In 2019, the USA women’s soccer team cleaned up at the World Cup. Notwithstanding their stellar success, the women were still paid significantly less than the far less successful male soccer team. In a case that has gotten much publicity, the women sued for pay discrimination. The women brought claims under both Title VII and the Equal Pay Act for the pay difference.
In November, the women got a big victory when the court certified the lawsuit as a class action for the Title VII claim. The lawsuit also got certified as a “collective action” on the Equal Pay Claim. This was vigorously opposed, so getting this relief from the court is a big win for the women’s team members.
And, the court set this case for trial in May 2020. That means that we do not have to wait too long to see whether this case will actually go to trial or whether the parties reach some agreement.
This case has been so important because the publicity it received has really stirred a dialog about equal pay issues and caused many people to start actively thinking about pay discrimination. No matter what happens with the women’s soccer team, that conversation is certainly going to continue.