Yesterday, Executive Order (“EO”) 11246, as amended by EO 13762, officially went into effect, representing the first time in the federal sector that sexual orientation and gender identity have been expressly protected. On July 21, 2014, President Obama issued EO 13762, which amended EO 11246 to prohibit federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Our original post on EO 13762 can be found here. These additional protections are being incorporated into the Federal Acquisition Regulations (“FAR”), which will become effective tomorrow, April 10, 2015.

In order to educate the public on these new protections, the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs (“OFCCP”) is conducting a series of webinars regarding the new sexual orientation and gender identity protections. Thus far, the webinars have focused on the obligations of federal contractors and the procedures available to claimants for filing a complaint under the new protections. We have summarized below key points from the webinar:

To Whom Does This Apply?

These new protections apply to any federal contractor, subcontractor, or government funded construction contractor that enters into or renews a federal contract or contracts valued at $10,000 or more per year. These new protections only apply to contracts entered into or renewed on or after April 8, 2015. These protections do not apply to organizations receiving grants from the federal government.

Administrative Changes Required By Employers

Under the new protections, employers must update the EEO language on their job advertisements, their EEO policies, and their “EEO is the Law” poster. The poster need not be updated until the OFCCP releases a supplement. The OFCCP has not yet announced when this supplement will be released.

With respect to the EEO language, the OFCCP has said that employers can simply say “Equal Employment Opportunity” on their job postings. However, if the employer chooses to list out the protected groups, it must list “sexual orientation” and “gender identity.” The OFCCP does not endorse the use of the acronym “LGBT,” as this is not representative of the entire protected class.

Dual Filing With The EEOC

The OFCCP clarified that any complaints alleging sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination are considered “dual-filed” with the EEOC. This means that the OFCCP will stand in the shoes of the EEOC when investigating the Title VII component of the complaint. While Title VII does not overtly protect against gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination, the EEOC has taken the position that these classifications are protected under Title VII and will pursue cases on behalf of these individuals.

As a consequence of the dual-filing process, if the OFCCP does not find cause or does not dispose of a case within 180 days, an employee can request a Notice of Right to Sue from the OFCCP to bring a private cause of action against the employer. This is significant as EO 11246 does not provide for a private cause of action. The OFCCP clarified, however, that it does not intend to pursue the compensatory and punitive damages available under Title VII (which are not available under the EO).

Religious Affiliated Contractors

In one of the webinars, the OFCCP clarified that all federal contractors, including religiously affiliated federal contractors, are required to comply with the new protections. This means that even those contractors who have been granted certain religious exemptions under EO 11246 may not discriminate based upon sexual orientation or gender identity.

Restroom Access Policies

The OFCCP clarified how employers must approach restroom access under the new protections. OFCCP explained that employers must allow employees to use restrooms based upon their gender identity. This means that if an employee was identified as a male at birth, but identifies as a female, the employer must permit that employee to use the female restroom if the employee desires to do so.

Benefits

The new protections provide that the same benefits must be provided to same-sex spouses as non-same-sex spouses. However, employers are not required to provide the same benefits to couples in civil unions or domestic partnerships as long as the denial of benefits is not based on discrimination. Consequently, if a contractor provides heterosexual domestic partners with benefits, it must provide homosexual domestic partners with the same benefits.