In 2012 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued its interpretation that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects sexual orientation, and now it has brought two LGBT discrimination lawsuits to test its interpretation.
“While some federal courts have begun to recognize this right under Title VII, it is critical that all courts do so,” explained EEOC General Counsel David Lopez.
In its suit against Scott Medical Health Center, the EEOC charged that a gay male employee was subjected to harassment because of his sexual orientation. The agency said that the male employee’s manager repeatedly referred to him using various anti-gay epithets and made other highly offensive comments about his sexuality and sex life. When the employee complained to the clinic director, the director responded that the manager was “just doing his job,” and refused to take any action to stop the harassment, according to the suit. After enduring weeks of such comments by his manager, the employee quit rather than endure further harassment.
In its suit against IFCO Systems, the EEOC charged that a lesbian employee was harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation. Her supervisor made numerous comments to her regarding her sexual orientation and appearance, such as “I want to turn you back into a woman” and “You would look good in a dress,” according to the suit. At one point, the supervisor blew a kiss at her and circled his tongue at her in a suggestive manner, the EEOC alleged. The employee complained to management and called the employee hotline about the harassment. IFCO fired the female employee just a few days later in retaliation for making the complaints, the EEOC charged.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination because of sex. As the federal law enforcement agency charged with interpreting and enforcing Title VII, the EEOC concluded that harassment and other discrimination because of sexual orientation is prohibited sex discrimination.
On July 15, 2015, the EEOC, in a federal sector decision, determined that sexual orientation discrimination is, by its very nature, discrimination because of sex. (See Baldwin v. Dep’t of Transp., Appeal No. 0120133080).
In that case, the EEOC explained the reasons why Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination includes discrimination because of sexual orientation: (1) sexual orientation discrimination necessarily involves treating workers less favorably because of their sex because sexual orientation as a concept cannot be understood without reference to sex; (2) sexual orientation discrimination is rooted in non-compliance with sex stereotypes and gender norms, and employment decisions based in such stereotypes and norms have long been found to be prohibited sex discrimination under Title VII; and (3) sexual orientation discrimination punishes workers because of their close personal association with members of a particular sex, such as marital and other personal relationships.