EEOC files suit against Pennsylvania employer; Baltimore company settles for $202K 

Last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) created quite a stir when it announced that it was going to start treating sexual orientation discrimination the same as it does sex discrimination. (See our blog post about it here.)

Now, the federal agency is proving that it is very serious about protecting the rights of employees who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). It recently filed suit against two companies – including one in Pennsylvania – for allegedly harassing employees over sexual orientation. One of the cases settled already, to the tune of $202,200.

Let’s take a closer look at these two cases and then discuss how it may apply to other employees in similar situations.

PA Employee Harassed for Being Gay

In the suit against the Pennsylvania company, the EEOC is alleging that a gay male employee of Scott Medical Center was repeatedly harassed because of his sexual orientation. The man’s manager reportedly referred to him using anti-gay epithets and made offensive comments about the staffer’s sex life.

The employee complained to the clinic director, but was told that the manager was “just doing his job.” According to the lawsuit, the behavior continued for several more weeks until the worker finally quit in order to avoid further harassment.

The second lawsuit, against Baltimore-based Pallet Companies, which does business as IFCO Systems, also involves alleged harassment by a manager. A lesbian employee claims that her supervisor repeatedly made statements such as “I want to turn you back into a woman” and “You would look good in a dress.” She says that he also made lewd gestures with his tongue and blew kisses at her.

The woman complained to upper management but nothing was done. She eventually called the employee hotline to report the harassment. Several days later she was fired.

The EEOC took up both cases and sued on the workers’ behalf.

While the lawsuit against Scott Medical Center is still under way, IFCO Systems decided to settle the matter quickly rather than face a jury trial. It agreed to pay the employee $182,200, and to donate $20,000 to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights advocacy organization.

(For more information on the cases discussed here, see this news release from the EEOC.)

What Employees Need to Know

The EEOC is the agency charged with enforcing federal discrimination laws. However, some states or localities may also have their own laws relating to sexual orientation discrimination.

At the moment, Pennsylvania has no such laws but Philadelphia does. The Philadelphia Fair Practices Ordinance, enforced by the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations, protects against sexual orientation discrimination, as well as discrimination based on sexual stereotyping and perception of sexual orientation – even if those perceptions are incorrect.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination also protects people from discrimination based on affectional or sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression.

Call Us for a Free Consultation

No one should have to put up with harassing or discriminatory behavior at work because of their sexual orientation. If you feel that you’ve been treated unlawfully, it’s a good idea to seek legal counsel from an attorney who has experience fighting for employees’ rights.

Email us at murphy@phillyemploymentlawyer.com, or call (267) 273-1054 for a free consultation.