Sexual Orientation Discrimination Is Illegal under Existing Law, Says EEOC
Federal agency says discrimination against LGBT employees is equivalent to sex discrimination
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) just effectively changed the playing field in terms of workplace protection for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT).
That agency, which is tasked with enforcing workplace discrimination laws, recently ruled that the existing law prohibiting sex discrimination also applies to sexual orientation-based discrimination.
According to the Commission, “Sexual orientation is inherently a ‘sex-based consideration,’ and an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII.”
So is it safe to call this a big victory for LGBT employees? Maybe or maybe not.
Multiple factors at play
The EEOC ruling certainly gives LGBT employees more room to exercise their rights to be free from discrimination because of their sexual orientations.
However, until now, federal case law has generally refused to recognize sexual orientation discrimination as illegal because there was not a Congressional law prohibiting it. Since the federal law has not changed—only the EEOC’s interpretation of it has—only time will tell what approach courts will take on this issue.
The EEOC acknowledges that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act may not have been intended to apply to sexual orientation discrimination back when it was drafted in 1964.
However, the agency offers three reasons that sexual orientation discrimination is tantamount to illegal sex discrimination:
A person’s sexual orientation is inseparable from his or her sex or gender.
Discrimination based on having an association with someone of a specific sex or gender is illegal.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that discrimination based on sex or gender stereotypes is illegal.
It’s also important to note that different states or localities may have their own laws relating to sexual orientation discrimination. For example, Philadelphia has legislation in place to protect against sexual orientation discrimination, but the state of Pennsylvania does not.
The Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, which is enforced by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, recognizes sexual orientation as a protected class. This ordinance also includes protection from discrimination based on sexual stereotyping and perception of sexual orientation—even if that perception is incorrect.
What this means to LGBT employees
LGBT employees should not feel that they are without recourse if they suspect they’ve been discriminated against because of their sexual orientations.
If you or someone you know has a claim related to this evolving legal issue, it’s a good idea to speak to an attorney who is well-versed in discrimination cases.
Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation to find out more about your rights.