The Kansas Human Rights Commission moved Friday to begin considering discrimination claims from LGBT Kansans in employment, public accommodation and housing, a significant ruling that may be challenged in court.
In an email to state legislators Friday, KHRC executive director Ruth Glover said that the move was part of the body’s interpretation of the June Bostock v. Clayton U.S. Supreme Court decision, which ruled that sexual and gender identity were covered under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, also known as Title VII.
That ruling, handed down in June, meant that a person could not be fired or discriminated against by employers for their sexual or gender identity.
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex,” Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote in the majority opinion. “Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision, exactly what Title VII forbids.”
The KHRC elected to use the definitions in the Bostock ruling but apply them more broadly.
Glover’s email said that the commission would immediately consider discrimination complaints pertaining not just to employment but also housing and other public accommodations, something the Supreme Court ruling did not touch.
“Effective today, the Kansas Human Rights Commission will begin accepting complaints of “sex” discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations wherein allegations include discrimination based on LGBTQ and all derivates of sex,” Glover wrote in the message, obtained by the Capital Journal.
Formal guidance will be forthcoming, she wrote.
The move also expands the number of businesses to which the non-discrimination mandate applies. Under the Supreme Court ruling, only businesses with 15 and more employees were affected. Under the Kansas Act Against Discrimination, businesses with four or more employees would be covered.
The move was cheered by advocacy groups as a significant advancement for LGBT Kansans.
“This is a great day for fairness in Kansas,” said Thomas Witt, the executive director of Equality Kansas, in a statement. “LGBTQ Kansans will now have the ability, under Kansas law, to seek redress for acts of discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations.”
But advocates also underscored the need to pass an update to the non-discrimination law via statute, which would make the protections harder to alter going forward.
That legislation, introduced as House Bill 2130 and Senate Bill 84 last session, died in committee and will likely again face long odds in the Republican-controlled statehouse.
There also is the potential for a legal challenge from conservative groups, with one of those such groups already alluding to a potential lawsuit.
“You’ve shown contempt for Kansans, for their duly elected representatives, and for the law itself,” the Family Policy Alliance said in a tweet addressed at the KHRC. “We will work with Kansans every step of the way to help them take back the power you attempted to steal today.”
But Witt said a lawsuit would not be a blow to their hopes.
“We welcome a challenge,” he said in a phone interview.