House Passes the Equality Act

On February 25, 2021, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Equality Act (H.R. 5) on a largely partly line vote of 224-206. This bill, if enacted into law, would amend federal law to expressly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in the contexts of, among other things, employment, public accommodations, housing and education.

For purposes of employment law, the Equality Act would essentially formalize and reinforce the Supreme Court’s 2020 decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which held that an employer who fires an individual for their sexual orientation or gender identity violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition of discrimination on the basis of “sex.” However, the bill would expand current protections in an important way. If passed in its current form, it would deny employers the ability to assert a religious freedom defense under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to claims for sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.

Only time will tell if the Equality Act will pass the Senate as well, and if so, whether the Senate would agree to House language denying religious exemptions.