For the first time since announcing last year that workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the EEOC has filed two sex discrimination cases against private employers based on sexual orientation.
The EEOC sued Scott Medical Health Center in a Pennsylvania federal district court, claiming that a gay male employee was subjected to harassment because of his sexual orientation when his manager repeatedly used anti-gay slurs, such as “fag,” and “faggot,” and also made “highly offensive comments about his sexuality and sex life.” When the employee reported the manager’s behavior to the clinic’s president, the clinic president allegedly “expressly refused to take any action to stop the harassment.” The employee later resigned claiming that he could no longer endure further harassment.
In the second suit filed in Maryland federal district court, the EEOC claimed that an IFCO Systems supervisor harassed a lesbian employee because of her sexual orientation. The supervisor allegedly repeatedly made comments such as “I want to turn you back into a woman;” “I want you to like men again;” “Are you a girl or a man?” and “You don’t have any breasts.” The supervisor also allegedly “quoted biblical passages stating that a man should be with a woman and not a woman with a woman,” and “stuck his tongue and circled it in a suggestive manner” toward the employee. After the employee reported the supervisor’s behavior to management and the employee hotline, she was allegedly fired shortly thereafter.
These two lawsuits do not come as a surprise in light of the strong message that the EEOC sent last year in a case involving a federal agency, holding that sexual orientation discrimination is discrimination “because of sex” and thus prohibited. “With the filing of these two suits, the EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation,” EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said in a press release. “While some federal courts have begun to recognize this right under Title VII, it is critical that all courts do so,” he added.
These two lawsuits could lead to a federal circuit court decision on whether Title VII covers sexual orientation discrimination outside of the federal sector. The EEOC considers sexual orientation discrimination as one of the “emerging and developing” issues identified as priorities in its Strategic Enforcement Plan. Accordingly, employers are strongly advised to review their policies and procedures to ensure that discrimination or harassment on the basis of sexual orientation is properly addressed in the workplace.