Yesterday, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission affirmed its position that discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation is prohibited by Title VII. The EEOC’s ruling means that an employee who works for an employer with 15 or more employees may file a charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC if he or she believes discrimination because of sexual orientation was the reason for the employment decision.
In April 2012, the EEOC took the similar position that Title VII applies to discrimination based on transgender status, gender identity or an employee's transitioning between genders. That position has found some support in court rulings.
The EEOC takes the position that sexual orientation bias is “associational discrimination on the basis of sex.” When an employer doesn’t approve of an individual dating someone of his or her own sex, the bias is obviously sex-based and therefore forbidden by Title VII, according to the EEOC.
The EEOC’s announcement on Thursday closely follows the U.S. Supreme Court decision validating same sex marriage as a Constitutional right.
There is no explicit federal or Michigan law declaring sexual orientation a protected status. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) was proposed in the United States Congress to prohibit discrimination in hiring and employment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity by employers with at least 15 employees. However, ENDA has not become law.
What does this mean for employers? An individual employed by an employer with 15 or more employees who believes he or she has been discriminated against because of his or her sexual orientation may pursue such a claim with the EEOC and the employer will have to defend against it. It is possible that the courts may conclude that the EEOC’s position is not supported by the language of Title VII. However, an employer’s legal challenge of the EEOC’s position is likely to be expensive and time-consuming. If you have questions about this EEOC ruling, please contact any of our Labor and Employment or Employment Litigation attorneys.