On July 23, 2015, Democratic Representatives David Cicilline (Rhode Island) and Jeff Merkley (Oregon) introduced in Congress legislation that would create the “Equality Act” (the Act). The Act represents an attempt to create a uniform federal standard that protects all lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Americans from discrimination in seven areas of civil rights law: employment, credit; education; federal funding; housing; jury service; and public accommodations.
In the employment context, the Act would add sexual orientation and gender identification as protected characteristics under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which currently only protects against employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. The introduction of the Act comes on the heels of the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) published guidance stating that Title VII protects against discrimination based on sexual orientation and transgender status. Importantly, the Act would leave existing religious exemptions intact.
Given the current political makeup of Congress, it is unlikely that the Act will become law. In any event, stay tuned for additional developments regarding the Equality Act.