Wednesday, March 2, 2016

EEOC Files First Gender Orientation Suits

As evidence of its continued initiative to address gender issues in the workplace, the EEOC filed two lawsuits this week on behalf of employees alleging discrimination based on gender orientation. According to the EEOC the federal agency's Philadelphia District Office filed suit against Scott Medical Health Center, and, in a separate suit, against Pallet Companies, dba IFCO Systems NA. While it has prosected these types of claims at the Agency level for years, these are the first lawsuits filed in courts where it claims that employers have violated Title VII’s gender discrimination prohibition when the alleged actions were based on gender orientation.

In its suit against Scott Medical Health Center, EEOC charged that a gay male employee was subjected to harassment because of his sexual orientation. The agency said that the male employee's manager repeatedly referred to him using various anti-gay epithets and made other highly offensive comments about his sexuality and sex life. When the employee complained to the clinic director, the director responded that the manager was "just doing his job," and refused to take any action to stop the harassment, according to the suit. After enduring weeks of such comments by his manager, the employee quit rather than endure further harassment.

In its suit against IFCO Systems, EEOC charged that the supervisor of a lesbian employee made numerous comments to her regarding her sexual orientation and appearance, such as "I want to turn you back into a woman" and "You would look good in a dress," according to the suit. At one point, the supervisor blew a kiss at her and circled his tongue at her in a suggestive manner, EEOC alleged. The employee complained to management and called the employee hotline about the harassment. IFCO fired the female employee just a few days later, which the agency claims was in retaliation for making the complaints.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination because of sex. As the federal law enforcement agency charged with interpreting and enforcing Title VII, EEOC has concluded that harassment and other discrimination because of sexual orientation is prohibited sex discrimination, although this is not stated in the law itself. These lawsuits signal that the EEOC continues to aggressively push their agenda to secure protection for workers based on gender orientation and identity.

Illinois, like a number of other states, prohibits discrimination based on gender orientation in its state Human Rights Act. The filing of these federal suits and any that follow will create a body of judicial law on gender orientation discrimination that will shape the issues going forward.