By Andrew Kimble
In light of the recent Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, it was only a matter of time before other federal laws impacting the LBGT community would be given a makeover. Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) did its part, issuing a decision that extends the protections granted by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to employees who believe they have been discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
Up until now, the majority of courts have concluded that Title VII – the federal law that governs employment discrimination on the basis of “sex, race, color, national origin, and religion” – did not cover discrimination against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. As a result, employees in many states (including Ohio!) had no legal protections if they felt they were fired or mistreated because they identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender.
The new ruling, issued on July 15, 2015, treats “sexual orientation discrimination” as a type of “sex discrimination.” Since 1989, it has been settled law that employers may not “rely upon sex-based considerations” or “take gender into account” when making employment decisions. See Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989). Based on this logic, the EEOC concluded that Title VII covers sexual orientation discrimination because “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.”
The Commission further explained their reasoning: discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is “premised on sex-based preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, or norms,” and “‘[s]exual orientation’ as a concept cannot be defined or understand without reference to sex.” See the EEOC’s full analysis here: Complainant v. Foxx.
While this is a major victory for LGBT workers, this ruling does not guarantee that sexual orientation discrimination claims will be heard in all U.S. federal court. Federal courts must give weight to the decisions made by agencies such as the EEOC, but they are not bound to follow its rulings or logic. As a result, until further precedent is developed, it will be up to the judge in each case to decide whether to follow the EEOC ruling in Complainant v. Foxx, or to continue following prior precedent in their jurisdiction. Still, this ruling provides significant ammunition for LGBT employees claiming discrimination based on their sexual orientation.
If you believe you have been discriminated against or harassed by your employer because of your sexual orientation, call Kimble Law Office today for a free consultation.