29 July 2022

Michigan Supreme Court Rules that Michigan Law Prohibits Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation

The Michigan Supreme Court issued an opinion on July 28, 2022 holding that Michigan’s statute prohibiting discrimination in a variety of contexts, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA), also prohibits discrimination on the basis of an individual’s sexual orientation.

The case, Rouch World LLC et al v. Michigan Department of Civil Rights et al, involved two acts of alleged sex-based discrimination in public accommodations investigated by the Michigan Department of Civil Rights. The first involved an event center’s refusal to host a same-sex wedding at their facility, on the grounds that doing so would violate the sincerely-held religious beliefs of the event center’s owners. The second involved a hair-removal service’s denial of services to a transgender woman, also on the grounds that performing the services would violate the owner’s sincerely-held religious beliefs. A lower court deciding these cases held that the ELCRA prohibits discrimination based on gender identify, and that ruling was not appealed.

Addressing the issue of whether the ELCRA prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, the Michigan Supreme Court’s majority relied upon the U.S. Supreme Court’s analysis in the landmark 2020 case, Bostock v. Clayton County. In Bostock, the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether Title VII, the federal statute prohibiting employment discrimination, prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. In that case, the Court concluded that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex included a prohibition on discrimination based on sexual orientation. [Miller Johnson’s previous Client Alert on the Bostock decision may be accessed here.] The Michigan Supreme Court, relying on Bostock, held that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily constitutes discrimination because of sex, and because the ELCRA prohibits discrimination based on sex, such discrimination is therefore prohibited.

Michigan businesses may wonder about the impact of the Michigan ruling, given the U.S. Supreme Court’s previous decision on such a similar question. Indeed, the Michigan Supreme Court’s ruling in Rouch World has deeper implications than the Title VII ruling:

  • As underscored by the facts in Rouch World, the ELCRA encompasses more activity than Title VII because it applies to discrimination in public accommodations generally, rather than solely in employment;
  • The ELCRA also covers more employers than Title VII because it applies to all employers, whereas Title VII applies only to employers with at least 15 employees.

The Miller Johnson team was prepared for yesterday’s decision and is ready to assist our clients with their needs. If you have any questions, please contact a member of Miller Johnson’s Employment and Labor practice group.