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LGBT Job Discrimination Illegal? Federal Court Says Maybe

LGBT Job Discrimination Illegal? Federal Court Says Maybe

In a groundbreaking new ruling, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia suggests that discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation may violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

While the decision isn’t binding outside the Court’s jurisdiction, it signals what could become a seismic shift in the way federal law treats LGBT job discrimination under existing statutes.

The Federal Case That Could Change U.S. Law

The case began when a federal employee sued his employer in 2012, alleging a hostile work environment in which he was subjected to sexual stereotyping and verbal abuse.

The defendant argued that federal law prevents sexual harassment and gender discrimination but not LGBT job description — an argument that courts have largely accepted until now.

The U.S. District Court surprised most analysts by overruling the employer’s motion to dismiss the case, ruling that the plaintiff has a right to proceed with his claim under Title VII. Now the case moves forward for adjudication on the merits.

U.S. District Court Echoes 2012 EEOC Guidelines on LGBT Job Discrimination

The ruling mirrors a recent shift in position by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a federal agency responsible for enforcing federal workplace discrimination law.

With its landmark 2012 ruling on the subject, the EEOC now recognizes that:

  • Discrimination against a transgender person constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII
  • Claims of sex stereotyping by lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals are valid sex discrimination claims under Title VII
  • LGBT job discrimination in personnel actions involving federal applicants and employees may violate The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA)
  • Lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees may file discrimination complaints under the EEOC’s Executive Order and 1614 complaint processes

Additionally, EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum recently penned a New York Times editorial in which she argued that Title VII covers LGBT job discrimination.

It will be important to watch this emerging area of employment law.

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