First Sexual Orientation Discrimination Cases Filed by EEOC

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The first wave of lawsuits against unlawful sex discrimination based on sexual orientation — a new issue currently under pressure to expand protections of the law to sexual orientation — have been filed by the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

The EEOC’s Philadelphia District Office filed a suit against Scott Medical Health Center with the U.S. District Court of the Western District of Pennsylvania. In a separate district, another suit was filed against Pallet Companies (IFCO Systems) with the U.S. District Court of the District of Maryland (Baltimore Division).

A gay male employee and a lesbian female employee filed these two sexual orientation discrimination cases under “sex discrimination” with the EEOC. The EEOC has taken the position that sexual orientation discrimination itself is a form of discrimination based on sex. Both employees seek punitive and compensatory damages from the employers in addition to orders from the court to end discrimination, harassment, and actions that amount to a hostile work environment.

Last year, the EEOC took the position that Title VII of the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits sexual orientation discrimination or discrimination based on sex. This concept has been discussed for years, and often approached from creative arguments which hinge on sex-based discrimination and not sexual-orientation directly. The EEOC has long argued that sexual orientation cannot be understood without reference to sex, and that sexual orientation discrimination is considered a type of sex discrimination by nature. Sexual orientation discrimination is often based on whether an employee fits the stereotypical gender norms. For this reason, sexual orientation discrimination can be protected, and sex discrimination was previously held to apply to gender identity by a transgender woman who won a suit citing the Civil Rights Act against a federal contractor in Maryland.

“With the filing of these two suits, EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation,” stated EEOC General Counsel David Lopez in a recent release. “While some federal courts have begun to recognize this right under Title VII, it is critical that all courts do so.”

Dale Baxley, the charging party in the action against Scott Medical Health Center, is a gay male employee. He filed a timely charge with the EEOC and is now pursuing a lawsuit against the Medical Center. He alleges that he was subject to harassment based on sexual orientation. The employee’s male manager had repeatedly referred to the employee using highly offensive remarks about his sexuality and sex life as well as anti-gay epithets. After the employee reported the behavior to his clinic director, the director replied that the manager was just “doing his job”, and refused to take action. The comments from his manager continued and escalated, until the employee quit to avoid being subject to further harassment and a hostile work environment.

In the second suit, a lesbian female employee reported being harassed by her supervisor because of sexual orientation. The employee’s supervisor had made comments numerous times regarding her sexual orientation and appearance, such as, “I want to turn you back into a woman” according to the EEOC’s report. The employee made a complaint with management and reported the harassment to the employee hotline. IFCO fired her just a few days after making the complaints.

Have you or someone you know experienced sex discrimination?

The best thing you can do for someone in this situation is to first find an attorney then go to the EEOC. Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., are advocates for employee rights and can help you file a suit. Call for a free confidential consultation today.


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