• EEOC Lawsuits Challenge Sexual Orientation Discrimination as Sex Discrimination
  • June 8, 2016 | Author: Keri L. Morris-Johnston
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Wilmington Office
  • The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed two sex discrimination cases based on sexual orientation. The first suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (3rd Circuit) and the second in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division (4th Circuit). Both suits allege discrimination based on sex and retaliation for complaining about the alleged behaviors.

    In the first suit, the EEOC alleges that a gay male employee was subject to harassment due to his sexual orientation. The suit contends he complained to his superiors and nothing was done about the alleged harassment. The employee chose to resign rather than continue employment and be subjected to the alleged conduct.

    In the second suit, the EEOC alleges that a lesbian employee was harassed due to sexual orientation. She complained about the behavior and was terminated shortly thereafter.

    Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination because of sex. The statute does not specifically include sexual orientation as a protected class; however, the EEOC has issued guidance determining that discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation is prohibited as sex discrimination. While the EEOC's decisions are not binding on the courts, courts often look to the EEOC for direction. Case law surrounding LGBT discrimination is still emerging, and employers should be vigilant to watch for and take preventative measures to provide a non-discriminatory work environment in accordance with the EEOC's guidance.