Friday, February 26, 2021

Promising Developments for LGBTQ Workers

After four years under a President who did everything in his power to strip LGBTQ people of their rights, things are finally looking up for LGBTQ workers. On his first day in office, President Biden issued an Executive Order instructing his administration to vigorously enforce the federal anti-discrimination laws which prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. And this week, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to explicitly encompass protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people.

 

Biden’s Executive Order requires federal agencies to follow the landmark Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which Bryan Schwartz Law has written about before. The Court in Bostock interpreted Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination “because of sex” to encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. It held, “An employer who fires an individual merely for being gay or transgender violates Title VII.Bostock v. Clayton Cty., Georgia, 140 S. Ct. 1731, 1734 (2020). The Court reasoned that it is impossible for an employer to discriminate against employees based on sexual orientation without discriminating against them on the basis of sex. Id. at 1741. Justice Gorsuch provided the example of a man being fired because he was married to a man, whereas a woman would not have been fired for being married to a man. Id. Therefore, because men and women are treated differently, there exists sex discrimination in this scenario. Id.


 


At the end of his presidency, in January, Trump’s Justice Department issued a last-minute memo seeking to limit the scope of Bostock’s applicability. Thankfully, Biden both revoked the memo and explicitly instructed his administration to interpret Bostock broadly in his Executive Order. In adopting a broad construction of Bostock, the Executive Order says loudly that the Biden administration will consider discrimination on the basis sexual orientation and gender identity to be a form of sex discrimination, prohibited by Title VII. This is an encouraging development, but because it is an Executive Order rather than legislation, it leaves open the possibility that future presidents could take steps backward again, like Trump did.

 

This is where the Equality Act comes in. Instead of including protections for LGBTQ people under the umbrella of “sex discrimination,” the Equality Act would Amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to add “sexual orientation and gender identity” as their own bases for protection under the Act. Currently, these bases are race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The Equality Act would replace the word, “sex,” from the Act with, “sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity).” The Civil Rights Act of 1964 is one of the greatest sources of protection for American workers, with Title VII of the Act prohibiting employment discrimination nationwide. The Equality Act would therefore expand these meaningful protections for American workers to explicitly encompass members of the LGBTQ community. 

 

It is important to pass federal protections for LGBTQ workers because currently, 27 states have no state-level laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  Further, passing the Equality Act would ensure federal-level protection from discrimination even in the unfortunate case that we end up with another President who does not support LGBTQ workers. It is crucial that we do not leave this important civil rights issue up to the whims of a bigoted future President.

 

Thanks to decades of hard work by LGBTQ advocacy groups, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Equality Act on February 24, 2021. Hopefully the Senate will look past partisan divides and vote this Act into law swiftly.

 

Bryan Schwartz Law stands with LGBTQ workers. The firm has written about Title VII many times before. If you believe you have been discriminated against based on your sexual orientation or gender identity, please contact Bryan Schwartz Law.

Friday, January 29, 2021

California Supreme Court Expands Number of Workers Classified as Employees Rather Than Independent Contractors

The 2020 presidential election successfully ousted an administration and political movement that has sought to undermine workplace protections, and reaffirmed democracy and the rule of law.

But it also saw the overwhelming passage of Proposition 22 in California after gig employers spent a jaw-dropping $200,000,000+

(the most in California history) to write its own law, much to the dismay of worker advocates and to the detriment of gig economy workers. Proposition 22 exempts app-based rideshare and delivery com
panies from their responsibilities under landmark worker protection law A.B. 5 and the Supreme Court of California’s decision in Dynamex Operations W. v. Superior Court (2018) 4 Cal.5th 903, which classify drivers as employees.

Good news for workers came early in 2021: the California Supreme Court has determined that the Dynamex decision applies retroactively to cases that arose before Dynamex was decided in 2018. The decision is Vazquez v. Jan-Pro Financing International, Inc.

Dynamex established the “ABC test,” a three-part legal test that makes it more difficult for businesses to ignore worker protections by classifying them as independent contractors. Under the ABC Test, a business can classify a worker as an independent contractor only if the employer can show all three parts:

A)      The person is free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in connection with the performance of the work;

B)      The person performs work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business; and

C)      The person is customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as that involved in the work performed.

If the business cannot prove all three of these parts, the worker is an employee. Unlike independent contractors, employees are guaranteed protections like sick leave, minimum wage, overtime pay, reimbursement for their expenses, health insurance, and the right to organize. Gig employers such as Uber, Lyft, Doordash, and Postmates hoped to avoid these legal obligations  to their workers by bankrolling Proposition 22—which is why its passage was such a stinging defeat for gig workers.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had already held that the ABC test applies retroactively in May 2019, but that did not end the debate. On rehearing, the Ninth Circuit decided to ask the California Supreme Court what it thought and withdrew its opinion. In a victory for workers, the California Supreme Court unanimously held on January 14, 2021, that the Dynamex decision should apply retroactively to cases arising before it was decided.

Judicial decisions like Dynamex usually apply retroactively, but the defendant here argued that Dynamex should be an exception because the ABC test was, in their view, a new rule. As such, according to the defendant, it would not be fair to apply Dynamex retroactively. The court disagreed, opining that decisions prior to Dynamex had put hiring entities on notice that the previous state of the law regarding independent contractor status was not firmly settled. To the contrary, the court stated that “fairness and policy considerations underlying our decision in Dynamex favor retroactive application,” because workers’ protections enable “them to provide at least minimally for themselves and their families and to accord them a modicum of dignity and self-respect.” If Dynamex were not applied retroactively, the court feared that many workers would be denied the intended protections of California law.

Though this is a victory, it is a limited one. Statutes of limitations already restrict the number of workers who may assert their rights as employees improperly misclassified as independent contractors. However, Proposition 22 does not apply retroactively, meaning that gig workers have a window in which to exercise their legal rights in light of this decision.

If you have wrongly classified as an independent contractor instead of an employee, contact Bryan Schwartz Law.