With the recent US Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage, many would think that equal rights would be extended to gay men and women in most other areas of life. This would be wrong. As it stands the laws protecting gay men and women from being free from discrimination in the workplace and housing, among other things, have continued to lag behind. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, for example, has not yet been amended to include gay men and women as a protected class.
The Civil Rights Act does not currently adequately protect sexual orientation
The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC)” last week did its part to change that in a case involving an employee who was fired for being gay. A majority panel for the agency – which considers claims of workplace harassment and discrimination under Federal law – held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act did provide protection to individuals based upon their sexual orientation. In making this decision the panel held that sexual orientation discrimination is the same as sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The decision may be found in full here.
This decision is a significant step for gay rights activists towards gaining equality in the workplace. What the EEOC has said is that gay men and women should now be able to bring claims for workplace discrimination, just as someone else would be able to do on the basis of race, gender, etc. Before this ruling gay men and women would have to bring claims based on complicated theories of discrimination, and these claims were often subject to dismissal.
A Victory of sorts – but more work ahead
The ruling by the EEOC certainly does not hurt the movement for gay rights in the workplace, however it does not by any means make these claims easy. While the EEOC has the ability to issue agency decisions, these decisions are not binding on the Federal Courts, who are only obligated to follow the law as written – in this case the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Federal courts often take EEOC decisions seriously, and frequently side with the agency, however until the issue is addressed by a major Federal Court or Congress, the reality is that the EEOC's guidance may be applied unequally throughout the country.
At D'Orazio Peterson we believe that in the workplace employees should be judged by their performance, nothing else. We will continue to fight for the rights of employees, and if you believe that you have been subjected to discrimination based on sexual orientation please give us a call at 518-308-8339. We are always happy to help.