Michigan legislators have been under pressure by LGBT rights advocates for several years regarding equal rights in the workplace. While it has been legal for same sex couples to marry in Michigan since June, when the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage for every state in the U.S., there is no specific federal or state law protecting LGBT workers from termination or other adverse employment action on the basis of sexual orientation.
However, that is not to say there are no protections for LGBT workers. For example, in 2014 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held that sexual orientation and gender identification are protected classes under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, although neither are mentioned by name in the law. In addition, a number of cities in Michigan have passed ordinances specifically protecting LGBT workers. That means employers who terminate an employee on the basis of sexual orientation are putting themselves at risk for litigation.
In addition, recently the “Fair Michigan” ballot committee submitted paperwork to the state legislature to get an amendment on the ballot in 2016 regarding LGBT worker rights. If it gets on the ballot and passes, Michigan’s constitution would contain additional language protecting Michigan LGBT workers from being fired for their sexual orientation or gender identification.
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the ballot initiative will be successful, even if Michigan voters get to decide the issue in 2016.
Generally, employers in Michigan are free to terminate at-will employees with or without cause, provided that employers do so without violating the legal rights of a protected class. In Michigan, protected classes include race, gender, religion, age and others.
Businesses which need help creating employment policies compliant with federal, state and local laws, or which are facing a claim for an employment violation, should contact an experienced business and employment law attorney to discuss their legal options.