EEOC Rules Discrimination of LGBT Workers Prohibited Under Title VII

court house with pride flag in front

A recent ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) may provide some hope for LGBT workers who have experienced discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation. The EEOC reached a 3-to-2 decision that workplace discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation is illegal according to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The ruling was issued for a case in which a temporary air traffic controller alleged that he’d been passed over for a permanent position because he was gay. It follows a similar 2012 case in which the EEOC also ruled that discriminating against employees because of their gender identity is illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The majority’s rationale in both cases is that discrimination against a person as a result of their sexual orientation is naturally a violation of the Act’s proscription against discrimination on the basis of sex.

Gay rights precedent resonates throughout the country

Workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is banned in 22 states. Currently, an executive order in Missouri only prohibits discrimination in public employment based on sexual orientation, and Kansas has no state-level protections for LGBT workers.

Previously, LGBT individuals in states without protections against workplace discrimination needed to rely on a 1989 Supreme Court case that determined employers can’t discriminate against employees who don’t present themselves according to gender stereotypes. A 1998 executive order also banned discrimination against gay government employees, but was limited in scope.

Now, it’s likely that courts around the county will look to the EEOC’s recent rulings to provide guidance as to how to rule in other, similar cases. “Courts wrestling with this question don’t have to feel that they’re first. There’s a government agency with expertise in anti-discrimination law that has taken this position,” says University of Colorado Law School Professor Helen Norton.

A push to enshrine LGBT rights in the workplace in legislation

In addition to celebrating rulings such as this by the EEOC, LGBT rights activists have pushed for federal legislation formally banning discrimination of LGBT workers, seeing it as a next step after the recent Supreme Court decision in support of gay marriage.

This is especially relevant in Kansas and Missouri, where Missouri Governor Jay Nixon and Kansas Governor Sam Brownback reacted in stark contrast to one another following the Supreme Court’s ruling. They each issued orders that demonstrated their differing opinions on the subject of gay rights and gay marriage.

In addition, in February 2015, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback rescinded a statewide executive order banning discrimination of government employees based on their sexual orientation or sexual identity. He argued that preventing discrimination against LGBT workers needed to be addressed with legislation – an unlikely prospect in the Republican-dominated Kansas legislature.

If you feel you’ve been discriminated against as a result of your sexual orientation or gender identity, you may benefit from a consultation with an employment lawyer to determine your options.

Krigel & Krigel maintains a great Employment Law Group in Kansas City and you can contact them anytime with questions you may have.

Image: Thinkstock/Dendron
*This article is very general in nature and does not constitute legal advice. Readers with legal questions should consult with an attorney prior to making any legal decisions.

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