Over the past couple of years, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC), the federal agency in charge of enforcing federal anti-discrimination laws, has been trying to argue that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee because of that employee’s sexual orientation. Last Wednesday, this argument received a powerful rebuke from Judge Andrea Wood of the Northern District of Illinois. Judge Wood dismissed a lawsuit where an employee claimed that he was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation by his employer, finding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee due to, among other things, that employee’s gender. Last July, the EEOC ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation was a form of gender discrimination, thereby making discrimination based on sexual orientation illegal under Title VII. As we noted shortly after this ruling, we were waiting to see whether this position would be endorsed by the federal courts. Judge Wood’s ruling shows that it probably will not.
Judge Wood’s ruling, and the issue of whether Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, will have little practical effect in Illinois, since Illinois law already prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, whether Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation is a significant issue in the 29 states that do not have state laws prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.
It remains to be seen whether the EEOC continues to argue that sexual orientation discrimination is prohibited by Title VII. The upcoming presidential election will likely have a significant impact on this. If a Democrat wins, the EEOC may continue to make this argument. If a Republican wins, it almost certainly will not.
Stay tuned to The Workplace Report for updates on how the EEOC and federal courts interpret Title VII and sexual orientation discrimination.