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Legal Insider: Virginia to Ban Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination

This is a sponsored column by attorneys John Berry and Kimberly Berry of Berry & Berry, PLLC, an employment and labor law firm located in Northern Virginia that specializes in federal employee, security clearance, retirement and private sector employee matters.

By John V. Berry, Esq.

The Commonwealth of Virginia is a few days away from enacting legislation that bans discrimination in employment, public accommodations and housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

On February 6, 2020, the Virginia Values Act passed HB 1663 in the Virginia House by a vote of 59 to 35 and SB 868 in the Virginia Senate by a vote of 30 to 9. The new legislation adds sexual orientation and gender identity to the state’s civil rights protections in the Virginia Human Rights Act.

The Virginia House published a summary of the new legislation, establishing several new civil claims as unlawful discrimination. The original summary of HB 1633 provides a good summation of this landmark legislation:

[The new law] creates explicit causes of action for unlawful discrimination in public accommodations and employment in the Virginia Human Rights Act. Currently, under the Act there is no cause of action for discrimination in public accommodations, and the only causes of action for discrimination in employment are for (i) unlawful discharge on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, including lactation, by employers employing more than five but fewer than 15 persons and (ii) unlawful discharge on the basis of age by employers employing more than five but fewer than 20 persons.

The bill allows the causes of action to be pursued privately by the aggrieved person or, in certain circumstances, by the Attorney General. The bill prohibits discrimination in public and private employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The bill also codifies for state and local government employment the current prohibitions on discrimination in employment on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, or status as a veteran.

Additionally, the bill (a) prohibits discrimination in public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or status as a veteran; (b) prohibits discrimination in credit on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, disability, and status as a veteran; and (c) adds discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, or status as a veteran as an unlawful housing practice…

The legislation has to win passage one more time as a procedural matter. However, the Governor, who sought the legislation, expects to sign the bill into law shortly. For the first time, the new law applies all of Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws to public accommodations, such as retail stores and restaurants. It is a month of major change for civil rights in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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