Chris Geidner reports at Buzzfeed:
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that existing civil rights law bars sexual orientation-based employment discrimination — a groundbreaking decision to advance legal protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers. “[A]llegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex,” the commission concluded in a decision dated July 15.
The independent commission addressed the question of whether the ban on sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars anti-LGB discrimination in a complaint brought by a Florida-based air traffic control specialist against Transportation Sec. Anthony Foxx.
The ruling — approved by a 3-2 vote of the five-person commission — applies to federal employees’ claims directly, but it also applies to the entire EEOC, which includes its offices across the nation that take and investigate claims of discrimination in private employment. While only the Supreme Court could issue a definitive ruling on the interpretation, EEOC decisions are given significant deference by federal courts.
The Human Rights Campaign reacts:
“Discrimination has no place in America, plain and simple,” said HRC President Chad Griffin. “This historic ruling by the EEOC makes clear they agree workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, much like gender identity, is illegal. While an important step, it also highlights the need for a comprehensive federal law permanently and clearly banning LGBT discrimination beyond employment to all areas of American life. Such a law would send a clear and permanent signal that discrimination against LGBT people will not be tolerated under any circumstances in this country, and we remain fully committed to making that happen.”
In a 2012 decision in Macy v. Holder, the EEOC determined that discrimination based on an individual’s gender identity is sex discrimination and thus constitutes a violation of the Civil Rights Act. EEOC rulings are not binding on federal courts, however they are persuasive. This new decision continues an important trend in the development of case law. The Supreme Court has not yet ruled on this issue. HRC continues to advocate for permanent and explicit, legislated non-discrimination protections at all levels of government for LGBT people.
Lambda Legal reacts:
“This landmark opinion from the EEOC confirms what we have long argued in our cases: discriminating against gay, lesbian and bisexual employees violates federal law. This ruling is likely to have enormous positive effects because EEOC interpretations of Title VII are highly persuasive to the courts—they tend to be predictive. Given the clarity and logic of this opinion, most courts are likely to stop simply referring to old, illogical rulings about Title VII coverage. A few may disagree, but most probably will be guided by the Commission’s straightforward approach,” said Greg Nevins, Counsel and Employment Fairness Strategist for Lambda Legal. Lambda Legal has been working for years on cases showing why Title VII, when properly understood, protects LGBT employees. This EEOC decision cites some of Lambda Legal’s recent work on this issue and it will be immensely significant in this continuing work.
While this will likely end up before the Supreme Court, it seems like today’s ruling could ultimately mean a win in the decades-long battle for Congress to pass ENDA.