July 27, 2015
EEOC Holds that Sexual Orientation Discrimination is Illegal Under Title VII
On July 15, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued an historic administrative decision stating that sexual orientation discrimination by an employer is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”).
Click here to review the decision: EEOC Sexual Orientation Discrimination Decision
The EEOC’s decision states that if an employer makes an adverse employment decision on the basis of an employee’s sexual orientation, the employer is violating the Civil Rights Act. Sexual orientation discrimination is a type of sex discrimination, and is explicitly prohibited under Title VII. “[S]exual 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 EEOC provided a simple hypothetical situation to explain its position: A lesbian female employee and a straight male employee both display pictures of their wives on their desks. If the employees’ boss suspends the woman because she had the photo on her desk, but does not do the same to her male co-worker, she may allege a charge of discrimination by claiming that her boss wouldn’t have suspended her if she were a man with a wife.
While the administrative decision provides clear insight into the EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII, at this time the decision is not binding on any claim made by non-federal employees. Nonetheless, courts may likely be persuaded by the EEOC’s decision when considering the discrimination claims of private sector employees.
If courts do adopt the EEOC’s interpretation of sexual orientation discrimination, this decision should come as a relief to LGBTQ residents of Western Pennsylvania. Until this decision, no federal or state law made it illegal for employers to fire, harass, or refuse to hire LGBTQ workers on the basis of their sexual orientation.
The City of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, along with several other Eastern Pennsylvania municipalities, have had local Human Relations Acts in place for several years that prohibit this type of discrimination against workers. Now, through the EEOC, LGBTQ residents of Westmoreland, Fayette, and Beaver Counties (to name just a few) have a way to fight workplace sexual orientation discrimination.