Governor Northam Signs Groundbreaking Virginia Values Act

Arent Fox
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Arent Fox

Last week, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam signed into law the Virginia Values Act. Effective July 1, 2020, the new statute broadly expands the state’s Human Rights Act to prohibit sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination in housing, public and private employment, public accommodations, and access to credit.

You can access the Values Act here.

Said Northam, “This legislation sends a strong, clear message — Virginia is a place where all people are welcome to live, work, visit, and raise a family. We are building an inclusive Commonwealth where there is opportunity for everyone, and everyone is treated fairly. No longer will LGBTQ Virginians have to fear being fired, evicted, or denied service in public places because of who they are.”

Eileen Filler-Corn, Virginia’s Speaker of the House, likewise hailed the new law. “With the Governor’s signing of the Virginia Values Act, we have made discrimination against our gay, lesbian and transgender friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers in employment, housing and public accommodation illegal in the Commonwealth of Virginia. It is now the law of the land that every Virginian can work hard, earn a living wage, and live their lives without fear of discrimination based on who they are or who they love. A tremendous victory.”

The Values Act also extends important protections against discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, and veteran status. Before its enactment, there was no state cause of action for discrimination in public accommodations, and the only state cause of action for employment discrimination applied to:

  • discharge based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, or childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation by employers employing more than five but fewer than 15 persons; and
  • discharge based on age by employers employing more than five but fewer than 20 persons.

The Values Act allows all aggrieved individuals to pursue a private cause of action, including a jury trial after they exhaust an EEOC-like administrative process. And, it empowers Virginia’s Attorney General, under certain circumstances, to bring an action.

The Act generally defines an “employer" as “a person that employed 15 or more employees for each working day in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year, and any agent of such a person.” But, for an unlawful discharge based on race, color, religion, national origin, status as a veteran, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions including lactation, "employer” means any employer employing more than five persons. And, for an unlawful discharge based on age, "employer” means any employer employing more than five but fewer than 20 persons.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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