The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently filed two suits in federal court alleging that employers committed unlawful sex discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under Title VII. These lawsuits go against well-established federal court precedent that sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII. Nevertheless, as of last summer, the EEOC has taken the position that sexual orientation discrimination is, in fact, discrimination because of sex and is thus protected under federal law.
The first lawsuit is out of Pennsylvania and alleges that an employee of Scott Medical Health Center was subjected to harassment because of his sexual orientation. In its complaint, the EEOC alleges 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. The agency contends that the manager’s conduct was motivated by the employee’s sex. The EEOC argues that “by virtue of his sexual orientation, [he] did not conform to sex stereotypes and norms about males…and…[the manager] objected generally to males having romantic and sexual association with other males…”
The other suit was brought in Maryland against IFCO Systems. There, EEOC similarly alleged that a lesbian employee was harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation. The EEOC says that the supervisor made numerous comments to the employee regarding her sexual orientation and appearance, and openly objected to her relationship with another woman. The EEOC again argued that the employee “[b]y virtue of her sexual orientation, did not conform to sex stereotypes and norms about females…and…[the supervisor] objected generally to females having romantic and sexual association with other females…”
These suits are the first of their kind filed by the EEOC. Thus, whether contrary to federal court precedent or not, the EEOC will continue to engage in this type of litigation. Statements made by EEOC General Counsel David Lopez in an EEOC press release emphasize this point: "With the filing of these two suits, EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation.” "While some federal courts have begun to recognize this right under Title VII, it is critical that all courts do so."
Employers should be aware of this development. Nemeth Law, P.C. will continue to monitor and provide updates on this expanding legal front.
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