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Inside the EEOC’s big sexual orientation win

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

It’s no secret that the EEOC has been testing out a new theory on what constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

The agency has been filing lawsuits contending that employers violate Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions if they discriminate against an applicant or employee because of sexual orientation.

Nonetheless, many were surprised Nov. 4 when a federal judge ruled in one of the test cases that the agency’s new interpretation is correct—that discriminating based on sexual orientation violates Title VII and is sex discrimination.

The lawsuit is EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center (No. 2:16-cv-00225-CB, WD PA, 2016).

The case is the first one the EEOC filed testing its theory and was filed in a federal court in Pittsburgh.

The original EEOC complaint came from a gay male employee who claimed he had been harassed at work because of his sexual orientation. He alleged he had no choice but to quit because of incessant verbal attacks.

The judge considering the case issued a ruling that found sexual orientation discrimination violates Title VII. She wrote, “That someone can be subjected to a barrage of insults, humiliation, hostility and/or changes to the terms and conditions of their employment, based upon nothing more than the aggressor’s view of what it means to be a man or a woman, is exactly the evil Title VII was designed to eradicate.”

The case now goes to trial.

Final note: The EEOC says sexual orientation discrimination:

  • Necessarily involves treating workers less favorably on account of their sex because sexual orientation as a concept cannot be understood without reference to sex
  • Is rooted in noncompliance 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
  • Punishes workers because of their close personal association with members of a particular sex, such as marital and other personal relationships.

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