Michigan Supreme Court Bans Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity

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On July 28, 2022, the Michigan Supreme Court issued a decision in Rouch World, LLC v Department of Civil Rights, holding that the prohibition of sex discrimination in places of public accommodation under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (“ELCRA”) barred discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  After the decision, Michigan state civil rights protections now align with federal Title VII requirements with regard to sexual orientation and gender identity.

In Rouch World, the Court reviewed consolidated claims concerning a wedding facility that denied a same-sex couple’s request to rent the venue and a hairdresser who denied services to a transgender woman.  The wedding facility and the hairdresser argued that providing the venue and services would violate their religious beliefs.  The Court ruled in favor of the same-sex couple and the transgender woman.  Specifically, the Court held that discrimination based on sexual orientation necessarily involves discrimination because of sex in violation of the ELCRA.  The Court also allowed a lower-court decision holding that discrimination based on gender identity likewise involved discrimination because of sex in violation of the ELCRA.  The Court remanded the case to the Michigan Court of Claims for further proceedings.

As the case proceeds in the Court of Claims, Michigan employers and others who manage places of public accommodation (including, but not limited to, restaurants, hotels, event venues, and other spaces) should evaluate their policies for compliance with the new ELCRA protections.  If you have any questions about this decision and how it may affect your business, please contact your relationship attorney or one of Honigman’s labor and employment attorneys.

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