Earlier this year, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Equality Act. The bill will now make its way to the Senate and if approved, would amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include protections for members of the LGBTQ community.

First introduced in 2019, the Equality Act includes major changes to the Civil Rights Act and would expand individual protections to prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Before diving into how the Equality Act would expand protections for certain individuals, it’s important to understand the current protections under Title VII.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, “Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 currently protects employees and job applicants from employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Title VII protection covers the full spectrum of employment decisions, including recruitment, selections, terminations, and other decisions concerning terms and conditions of employment.” Also included among protections under Title VII are fringe benefits, which means employers cannot discriminate against employees receiving benefits such as medical, retirement, and bonus incentives. Essentially, Title VII ensures employees receive fair and equal opportunities in the workplace that do not hinge on membership in protected classes. 

The Equality Act would expand Title VII protections to individuals on the basis of sexual orientation and gender orientation. The Supreme Court Case Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, did indeed find that sexual orientation and gender discrimination do fall under the “sex” category under Title VII, however, this case changes the interpretation of Title VII as opposed to changing the actual text. The Equality Act would fundamentally change Title VII verbiage to include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

In addition, the Equality Act would “expand the definition of public accommodations to include places or establishments that provide (1) exhibitions, recreation, exercise, amusement, gatherings, or displays; (2) goods, services, or programs; and (3) transportation services.”

Finally, the Equality Act would ensure that individuals cannot be denied access to public facilities, including restrooms, dressing rooms, and other shared facilities. In the event equal protection actions arise in a federal court and relate to gender identity or sexual orientation, the Department of Justice (DOJ) will be able to step in. 

The Act introduces national protections for the LGBTQ community. Currently, 27 states across the U.S. do not have anti-discrimination protections for these individuals. 

President Biden released a statement after the Equality Act was introduced to congress. “Full equality has been denied to LGBTQ+ Americans and their families for far too long. Despite the extraordinary progress the LGBTQ+ community has made to secure their basic civil rights, discrimination is still rampant in many areas of our society. The Equality Act provides long-overdue federal civil rights protections on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, locking in critical safeguards in our housing, education, public services, and lending systems — and codifying the courage and resilience of the LGBTQ+ movement into enduring law.”

The Equality Act has passed in the Democratic majority House two times, (once in 2019 and again in 2021). Now, the bill will need to pass in the Senate before making its way to Biden’s desk. Under the current filibuster rule, 60 votes are required.

Time will tell if the Equality Act will become law, but the timing couldn’t be more right. States are enacting legislation aimed at creating equality in the workplace, investors and fund managers are expecting organizations to be forthright in their efforts to achieve environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals in the workplace. Federal agencies such as the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) are also making pay equity a top priority.

Outside of the U.S., Canada, the UK, Iceland, and more are also joining in to ensure equality and fairness, specifically in the workplace. Social good is part of the next generation economy, and the U.S. is poised to make law the Equality Act of 2021. 

Employers, the climate for doing social good is gaining traction and a great way for your business to participate in the ongoing dialogue is through ongoing DEI monthly monitoring. Platforms like PayParitySM can help your business meet its pay equity and diversity goals while fostering a more inclusive workplace. If you’re new to pay equity, download the white paper Designing a Successful Pay Equity Policy for Your Organization to learn how you can get started.