This week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The decision, dated July 15, resolved a complaint brought by an air traffic controller in Florida against Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx, and expands antidiscrimination protection to workers who were previously unprotected under state law.
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“The courts have gone where the principles of Title VII have directed,” the commission said, referencing previous decisions that determined, for example, that an employer could not have one hiring policy for mothers of pre-school children and another for fathers. “Our task is the same. We therefore conclude that Complainant’s allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex. We further conclude that allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex.”
Prior to this decision, LGB workers were protected from employment discrimination only by state law in 22 states and the District of Columbia. In other areas of the U.S., it was perfectly legal to fire workers based solely on their sexual orientation.
Of the EEOC’s latest ruling, Slate‘s Mark Joseph Stern explains:
…the EEOC’s theory here is really quite straightforward. Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including, the Supreme Court has ruled, irrational sex stereotyping. The EEOC has already found that when an employer discriminates a gay employee for being effeminate — or a lesbian employee for being butch — that qualifies as illegal sex stereotyping. Now the commission has taken that logic one step farther. When an employer disapproves of a lesbian employee’s orientation, he’s really objecting to the fact that a woman is romantically attracted to another woman. This objection is based on irrational, stereotyped views of femininity and womanhood. Thus, when the employer discriminates against his lesbian employee, that discrimination is based in large part on her sex, and on his anger that she does not fit into her gender role.
In addition, Stern says, the EEOC’s decision is based on discrimination as “associational discrimination on the basis of sex” – in other words, before an employer can object to a male employee’s relationship with another man, he has to recognize (and object to) his sex. That’s discrimination based on sex, and as of this week’s ruling, it’s illegal.
Previously, federal courts have upheld the rights of transgender workers to be protected from employment discrimination, under Title VII. Now, gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers are also protected.
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