Back in mid-2015, we highlighted an EEOC decision that found that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was covered by Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination. Now the EEOC is taking things one step further and, on March 1, 2016, sued its first two cases in federal district courts in Pennsylvania and Maryland asserting sexual orientation discrimination claims. Read the EEOC's press release here.
Why is this significant?
Title VII (the major federal employment discrimination statute) does not explicitly list sexual orientation as a protected class. Because of this, many courts including the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes New York State) have decisions on the books dismissing sexual orientation cases on that basis. We will now see whether any courts adopt the EEOC's interpretation of Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination (most commonly invoked when women are discriminated against) to include sexual orientation. In New York, sexual orientation (including perceived sexual orientation, ie., your employer thinks you are gay) is protected by the state Human Rights Law.