Anti-LGBT discrimination at work is already illegal – federal commission

© Elijah Nouvelage
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that discrimination against employees who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is already illegal under current law.

The decision comes as a major victory for LGBT individuals seeking enhanced protections in the workplace, though it may still be challenged in the courts.

First reported on by Buzzfeed, the July 15 ruling states that anti-discrimination protections were put in place under the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“Sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of that employee’s sex,” the ruling reads.

Specifically, the independent commission, which monitors and enforces workplace discrimination laws, found grounds for its ruling under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which states that employers cannot discriminate “based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”

While the EEOC acknowledged that an individual’s sexual orientation is not specifically highlighted in Title VII, it found that the ban against discrimination based on “sex” is broad enough to include LGBT workers. Discrimination against such workers would still rely “on sex-based considerations” or “take gender into account.”

An example used by the EEOC involved a lesbian employee who was suspended for putting a picture of her female spouse on her desk, while a male employee placing a photo of his female spouse on his desk received no disciplinary action.

“The lesbian employee in that example can allege that her employer took an adverse action against her that the employer would not have taken had she been male,” the ruling reads. “That is a legitimate claim under Title VII that sex was unlawfully taken into account in the adverse employment action.”

As noted by the Washington Post, the ruling runs contrary to some decisions that have been handed down by US circuit courts in the past. Previous decisions have asserted that Congress did not mean to include anti-LGBT protections in Title VII, and pointed out that lawmakers still haven’t taken the initiative to specifically address the issue.

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And while EEOC rulings generally do have influence on the courts, it remains to be seen whether the judiciary will agree. The commission argued that “‘Sexual orientation’ as a concept cannot be defined or understood without reference to sex.”

In a statement to Buzzfeed, Chad Griffin of the Human Rights Campaign said that even though the ruling is welcome, legislation should be passed explicitly addressing LGBT discrimination in the workplace.

“This historic ruling by the EEOC makes clear they agree workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, much like gender identity, is illegal,” he said. “While an important step, it also highlights the need for a comprehensive federal law permanently and clearly banning LGBT discrimination beyond employment to all areas of American life.”

“Such a law would send a clear and permanent signal that discrimination against LGBT people will not be tolerated under any circumstances in this country, and we remain fully committed to making that happen.”