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Striking the balance between LGBTQ+ and religious employee rights

Damien DeLaney (damien.delaney@akerman.com) is Partner at Akerman LLP in Los Angeles. Zarra Elias (zarra.elias@moffitt.org) is the Assistant General Counsel II, Employment Law, at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida.

In maintaining an ethical—and legally compliant—workplace, employers have an obligation to create an inclusive environment for their employees. In some instances, certain employees’ rights may conflict with others’, but in no circumstance is that conflict more salient than the conflict that arises between employees who identify as LGBTQ+ and employees with religion-based anti-LGBTQ+ views. Both groups are protected by federal law: religion is expressly recognized as a protected status under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), while the United States Supreme Court recently confirmed in the landmark case Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, that sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression fall within the definition of “sex” under Title VII.[1] Many local and state laws also provide additional protections under their own civil rights laws.

Employers may see this as a bit of a quandary: How do we balance employees’ rights while maintaining a nondiscriminatory and inclusive workplace?

The issue is not a zero-sum game, nor can it be. Employers owe legal and ethical obligations to both groups. An employer can minimize its legal risk, as well as ensure happy, productive, and fulfilled employees, by finding a balance between the needs of both groups. In this article, we offer general guidelines and suggestions for how to strike that balance.

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