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Supreme Court Rulings Affect the Fair Housing Act

By Becca Stewart

Under the Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968, tenants and home buyers are protected from discrimination on the basis of “race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or disability.” We’ve covered this Act in detail previously. However, until June 15, 2020, states were on their own when determining which of its citizens fell under those protections, specifically under the term “sex discrimination.” A landmark Supreme Court decision about workplace discrimination based on sex is changing all of that. Here, we’re looking at the historic SCOTUS ruling and its potential implications on the Fair Housing Act.

A Historic Decision

On June 15, 2020, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 6-3 to broaden the definition of sex discrimination in the workplace. Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against potential, current, or past employees because of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. However, it’s the “sex” part that went before the Justices this year, alleging that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity should also be illegal under the law.The case claimed that three individuals were unlawfully fired; two for being gay, and one for revealing she is transgender. In all three cases, the plaintiffs say employers fired them from their jobs simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Eventually, the case made its way to the Supreme Court, where Justices heard arguments alleging that “sex discrimination” under the Civil Rights Act should include protections for LGBTQ+ individuals.

The Supreme Court agreed. In a 6-3 ruling written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court states:

“Today, we must decide whether an employer can fire someone simply for being homosexual or transgender. The answer is clear. An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”

And with that, SCOTUS determined that employers who discriminate against potential or current employees may not be discriminated against for being gay or transgender.

How Does the SCOTUS Ruling Impact Fair Housing?

While this historic ruling doesn’t directly impact the Fair Housing Act, most experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before this precedent affects other parts of the Civil Rights Act.

Because SCOTUS concluded in its ruling that sex discrimination includes discrimination against LGBTQ+ individuals, it’s likely that this precedent will follow in subsequent lawsuits.

Currently, only 21 American states prohibit housing discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. And one – Wisconsin – only prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, but does not protect transgender individuals.

Therefore, in more than half the nation, property owners, property managers, and even mortgage firms and banks can legally discriminate against LGBTQ+ individuals. Studies show that LGBTQ+ people experience housing discrimination regularly, with transgender people experiencing the most discrimination. However, this SCOTUS ruling changes the trajectory for millions of LGBTQ+ Americans, providing hope that these protections will soon apply to the Fair Housing Act as well. The Fair Housing Act contains much of the same language as the Civil Rights Act, including protections from sex discrimination. Therefore, if a lawsuit claiming the Fair Housing Act should include nationwide protections for gay and transgender people, the Supreme Court is likely to agree based on its prior decision.

Lessons for Owners and Property Managers

If you live in a state that already protects LGBTQ+ people under local Fair Housing laws, little will change. However, if you own or manage a property in one of the 28 states that doesn’t currently protect gay and transgender people from housing discrimination, it would be wise to start addressing this issue now. It’s likely only a matter of time before SCOTUS rules that the Fair Housing Act’s sex discrimination language applies to LGBTQ+ people. Under that ruling, it will be illegal for anyone in the housing industry to refuse service to someone based on their sexual orientation or gender identity. Therefore, property owners and property managers should address this issue now. Discrimination isn’t often overt or intentional. But by educating yourself and your staff, you can learn more about the discrimination these individuals face every day. Furthermore, you can learn how to avoid discrimination and comply with soon-to-be national anti-discrimination laws.

For LGBTQ+ people across the Nation, the recent SCOTUS ruling breathed new life into the fight for equal rights. While most states don’t specifically include sexual orientation and gender identity under sex discrimination laws, this ruling shows it’s only a matter of time.

For housing professionals, it’s time to address this issue, ensuring everyone involved in your business fully complies with anti-discrimination laws.

The information provided herein does not constitute legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. This website contains links that are only provided for the convenience of the reader. All liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on the contents of this site are hereby expressly disclaimed. No representations are made that this content is error-free. Please consult your attorney to determine if the information contained herein is applicable to your situation.

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