PITTSBURGH – The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a lawsuit that challenges the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination to also include discrimination based on sexual orientation.
In the case EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, the EEOC is arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should also prohibit an employer from discriminating against an employee based on their sexual orientation.
To date, the federal courts have ruled that sex orientation discrimination does not fall under the law, preventing employees from filing lawsuits against their employer regarding sexual orientation.
In this lawsuit, the EEOC is looking to change the interpretation of the federal law to also include sexual orientation, which the EEOC is arguing refers to a person’s sex and is a form of sex discrimination outlined under the law.
The Scott Medical case involves a gay male who was harassed by his manager regarding his relationship with another man. The employee resigned because the manager was never reprimanded by the company. EEOC claims that in this instance, the manger’s harassment was based on sex as it wouldn’t have occurred if the employee had been a woman having relations with a man.
“Employers simply need to be aware of how the law is changing, and adjust their workplace policies and practices accordingly,” Shane Miller, litigation associate at Tucker Arensberg, told the Pennsylvania Record. “They should always check with their in-house counsel or an attorney before making any changes to their employment policies.”
Regarding whether the court should change the law to include sexual orientation, Miller said, “Each court will have to make that decision for itself once it encounters one of these cases. The EEOC believes that discrimination based on sexual orientation is 'sex' discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act because sexual orientation discrimination inevitably involves stereotypes or references to an individual’s sex. We just have to wait and see if the federal courts agree.”
The EEOC is trying to follow the president's lead.
“The EEOC’s five members are appointed by the president of the United States," Miller said. "Therefore, the EEOC’s priorities can change depending on who occupies the White House.
"The Obama administration and the EEOC have made it a priority to prevent discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals. The EEOC is trying to further that goal by bringing these lawsuits.”
With a move to change the federal law, the possibility of more cases like the Scott Medical lawsuit may come to light.
Whether this will happen is hard to say, Miller said,
"The EEOC cases are still working their way through the federal court system," he said. "Once federal courts – especially federal appellate courts – start issuing decisions on those cases, attorneys will have a better idea of whether Title VII covers sexual orientation claims.
"If the courts rule that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace, we may see more of these cases being filed in federal court.”