The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace is a form of illegal sex discrimination. According to the Commission, which passed the ruling in a 3-to-2 vote on July 16, 2015, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not explicitly prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. It does, however, prohibit sex discrimination, and “an allegation of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination.”
In the ruling, the Commission explained that sexual orientation discrimination could be classified as gender discrimination because it relies on “sex-based preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, or norms.”
Though the ruling does not change the law or enforce changes in federal courts, it may significantly impact sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits, for courts often follow federal agencies in their interpretation of laws that lie within their jurisdiction.
As of now, the EEOC’s decision applies only to federal workers. Going forward, federal agencies will be expected handle allegations of sexual orientation discrimination as allegations of unlawful sex discrimination. The ruling does not eliminate sexual orientation discrimination in private businesses, for courts may choose either to accept or reject the commission’s interpretation of Title VII. However, since many courts respect the EEOC’s opinions, the ruling may increase the number of courts that rule that sexual orientation discrimination is unlawful.
In New York, sexual orientation discrimination is already illegal
Currently, twenty-two states ban sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. Fortunately, New York State is one of them. New York State and New York City laws protect workers from sexual orientation discrimination in all aspects of employment, including hiring, firing, wages, promotions, demotions, bonuses, benefits, termination, and overtime.
For employees who already live in states that ban sexual orientation discrimination, the ruling may still impact their ability to claim that they were discriminated against in court. Individuals who file lawsuits against their employers may be able to do so not only on state and local levels, but also on federal levels. For now, employees’ success in filing sexual orientation lawsuits on the federal level will rely on different courts’ interpretations of the EEOC’s ruling. Until there is legislation or a Supreme Court decision on the matter, the legality of sexual orientation discrimination may vary depending on the court and on the location.
NYC employees who have faced discrimination should contact a lawyer as soon as possible
If you are an employee in New York City and believe you have faced sexual orientation discrimination at work, contact the Akin Law Group at 866.685.5163 as soon as possible. Our knowledgeable lawyers will be able to assist you by offering you legal advice and by notifying you of your options going forward.