EEOC Stretches the Ban on 'Sex Discrimination' to Cover LGBT Employees

By Susan Jones | July 17, 2015 | 6:47 AM EDT

LGBT activists press for passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, which languishes in Congress. But this week, the EEOC issued a decision that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination that is outlawed by existing federal law. (AP File Photo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission enforces federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability or genetic information.

Despite pressure from activists, Congress has not passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act -- a bill that would explicitly outlaw discrimination against LGBT people, but never mind.

This week, the EEOC decided that existing federal law barring sex discrimination can be stretched to cover lesbian, gay and bisexual employees, too.

The EEOC ruled that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals may bring sex discrimination claims if they believe their employer has discriminated against them because of their sexual orientation.

Those claims may include allegations of sexual harassment or other kinds of sex discrimination, such as adverse actions taken because of the person's non-conformance with sex-stereotypes.

In 2012, the EEOC ruled that discrimination against transgenders (also known as gender identity discrimination) is discrimination because of sex and therefore is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The EEOC now says that discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals based on sex-stereotypes, such as the belief that men should only date women or that women should only marry men, also is discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII.  

“The fight for basic civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people just took a big step forward,” said American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project Director James Esseks said Thursday in a news release hailing the EEOC's decision.

“Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people all across the country now have a place to turn if an employer fires them because of their sexual orientation. This is a significant development because protections for gay and transgender people are almost nonexistent in federal law, and 28 states also lack state-level protections.”

But the ACLU says protections for LGBT workers should not be left to the courts. The group is pushing for more comprehensive protections, which can only come from federal and state lawmakers.

“Employers as well as employees deserve the clarity that comes with express federal and state protections that everyone understands,” Esseks said. “That’s why we’ll continue to work for express and comprehensive protections. The EEOC ruling is a monumental step forward and provides important protections for millions of Americans, and that’s something to celebrate.”

In January 2013, the EEOC began tracking cases where workers charged their employers with discrimination related to gender identity and/or sexual orientation.  

In the final three quarters of FY 2013 (January through September), EEOC received 643 charges that included allegations of sex discrimination related to sexual orientation and 147 charges that included allegations of sex discrimination based on gender identity/transgender status.

In FY 2014, the EEOC received 918 charges that included allegations of sex discrimination related to sexual orientation and 202 charges that included allegations of sex discrimination based on gender identity/transgender status.  

For the first two quarters of FY 2015, EEOC has received 505 charges that included allegations of sex discrimination related to sexual orientation and 112 charges that included allegations of sex discrimination based on gender identity/transgender status.