Sexual Orientation Discrimination is Sex Discrimination Under Title VII

December 2, 2016 - In a historic ruling, a federal court has denied a motion to dismiss a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC, finding that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The groundbreaking decision will have a ripple effect nationwide, where lawsuits related to sexual orientation have fallen outside the classification of sexual discrimination under Title VII.

The EEOC filed the U.S. government’s first sex discrimination lawsuit based on sexual orientation in March 2016, EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, 2:16-cv-00225 (W.D. Pa. Nov. 4, 2016). According to the complaint, a gay male employee was harassed because of his sexual orientation. Because of the hostile work environment, the employee was forced to quit his job rather than endure ongoing harassment.

The court denied the defendant company’s move to dismiss the case. According to the ruling, sexual discrimination is a type of discrimination “because of sex” which is prohibited by Title VII. The federal court applied prior decisions handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, which included cases involving adverse treatment of workers based on “sex stereotypes” or preconceived notions about how men or women should think and act. According to the decision, “There is no more obvious form of sex stereo­typing than making a determination that a person should conform to heterosexuality.”

This ruling comes on the heels of a decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College to review this issue en banc (i.e. whether, contrary to a conclusion reached by a three-judge panel, Title VII protects employees from sexual orientation discrimination).

What is sexual orientation discrimination?
Sexual orientation discrimination can take the form of any disparate treatment. In this case, the employee suffered from humiliation, repeated insults, hostility, and changes to the terms and conditions of employment. This type of discrimination fits squarely into the Title VII definition of discrimination because of sex. The federal court held that the case does qualify as sex discrimination under Title VII; however, there has been no trial or fact finding in the present matter, yet, to determine whether the discrimination actually occurred.

EEOC reading of Title VII
This is the first time a federal court held that sexual orientation discrimination falls under Title VII protections, but it is consistent with earlier readings by the EEOC. The EEOC recently determined that harassment and any other form of discrimination based on orientation are prohibited. The EEOC issued a federal sector decision that stated sexual orientation discrimination is discrimination because of sex (see also article here).

Have you suffered from discrimination because you are LGBT?
Discrimination could arise in the form of teasing, inappropriate comments, demotion, termination, or any adverse employment action. If you have suffered from discrimination because of your sexual orientation, our attorneys want to hear from you. We are currently investigating cases related to sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace and can help you protect your rights. Baillon Thome Jozwiak & Wanta LLP is dedicated to protecting employee rights in Minneapolis, St. Paul and throughout Minnesota. For more information, please call us at 612-252-3570 or click here to contact us.