The U.S. Supreme Court has started hearing this term’s cases. While those of constitutional import or with political consequences will garner the most attention, the lion’s share of cases the Court hears are statutory cases. In those, the Court exercises its duty to say what the laws Congress wrote – not always examples of clarity – actually mean.
One area where the Constitution and regular statutes meet, and one relevant to business owners as employers, are questions of equal opportunity and its reverse, discrimination based on demographic traits like race or gender. Those cases are a bit of an American obsession, a price still paid for the country’s original sin of slavery and the ripples still felt from legalized discrimination just a couple of generations ago.
Most discrimination cases the Supreme Court hears these days could be said to fine-tune the principle that all people must be treated equally. Such questions include the need to balance race-conscious affirmative action with non-race based policies aimed at inclusion, whether housing policies that may impact minorities differently but do not single them out are still suspect, or when a supervisor firing someone without discriminatory malice, but (unknowingly) due to the maneuverings of another, discriminating employee, still exposes the company to liability.
The core of what businesses must remember on a day-to-day basis is simple. Treat everyone the same (and preferably with professional courtesy) regardless of race, gender, religion, and so on. That will avoid the vast majority of problems. For the tricky little details, see a good attorney.