Workplace discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression is a form of unlawful sex discrimination under federal law, thanks to a 2020 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. New York State and New York City employment discrimination laws include specific protections for LGBTQ workers. Laws protecting against sex discrimination in education play as important a role in our society as those addressing workplace discrimination. While the Supreme Court’s decision last year did not include the federal statute prohibiting sex discrimination in education, the new White House administration has filled in the gaps. An executive order (EO) issued in January 2021 cites the Supreme Court in extending Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 to protect against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender expression. The Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo in late March applying the EO to its Title IX enforcement activities.
Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in any educational institution or program that receives federal funding. 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a). Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination by employers on the basis of sex and several other factors. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). Neither statute provides a distinct definition of “sex,” except that Title VII includes pregnancy discrimination in its prohibition of “sex discrimination.”
Courts have gradually expanded the scope of “sex discrimination” over the years, to include acts like sexual harassment and discrimination based sex or gender stereotypes. Lawmakers in New York State, New York City, and many other state and local jurisdictions added gender identity and gender expression as distinct protected categories in their antidiscrimination laws. People asserting claims under federal law, for both employment and education discrimination, had to get creative.