Ever heard of the Civil Rights Act? Of course you have; it’s one of the most important pieces of legislation in our history. It prohibits discrimination based upon race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. However, it doesn’t specifically protect from discrimination based upon sexual orientation (or transgender for that matter).
The Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the governmental entity responsible for enforcing compliance with the Civil Rights Act. Although it has not been specifically enumerated within the Act, the EEOC considers sexual orientation as a protected class and they’re taking steps forward to ensure companies can’t ignore their decision.
Lawsuits from Baltimore and Pittsburg Companies
Yolanda Boone, a former employee of Pallet Companies, alleges she was terminated after complaining of being harassed because of her sexual orientation. Boone was known to her coworkers as a lesbian and, as a result, was continually harassed by her shift supervisor Charles Lowery. According to Boone, Lowery would say things such as, “I want to turn you back into a woman, “ “Are you a girl or a man?” and often quoted biblical quotes that referenced only a man and woman should be together—not a woman and a woman. Boone says once she complained, she was asked to resign and when she refused, she was fired.
The 2nd suit involves a former telemarketer, Dale Baxley, for Scott Medical Health Center. Baxley’s suit alleges his manager, Robert McClendon, used antigay slurs when referring to Baxley and that McClendon, “routinely made unwelcome and offensive comments about Baxley, including but not limited to regularly calling him ‘fag,’ ‘faggot,’ and ‘queer,’ and making statements such as ‘fucking queer can’t do your job.’” These are just a few of the slurs Baxley claimed McClendon used before he resigned after the company’s president refused to do anything to stop the harassment.
Each complainant seeks punitive and compensatory damages against the companies, as well as orders from the court requiring the companies to end discrimination and take steps to prevent any future harassment.
EEOC Says Sexual Orientation is Protected under Sex Discrimination and Federal Courts Will Likely Give Significant Deference to the Commission’s Ruling
In a complaint brought by an air traffic control specialist against Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in Florida last year, the EEOC officially ruled, “Allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex.”
Not only does the Commission believe sexual orientation is protected, but in the 2012 case brought by Mia Macy against the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the EEOC declared transgender workers are protected under sex discrimination.
While it’s ultimately up to the Supreme Court to issue any definitive decision on the issue, the EEOC believes, “The courts have gone where the principles of Title VII have directed.” Further, in the past, federal courts have typically given significant deference to the EEOC’s decisions.
It’s Only a Matter of Time
It’s been slow, but there’s been a progressive movement towards equality for the LGBT community and there’s no doubt the courts will find their way towards a decision in line with the EEOC. In 1965, the Supreme Court found, in Griswold v. Connecticut, that fundamental rights found within the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause
“extend to certain personal choices central to individual dignity and autonomy, including intimate choices that define personal identity and beliefs…”
In 2003, the Supreme Court struck down a Texas law, Lawrence v. Texas, which prohibited certain forms of intimate sexual contact between members of the same sex. Justice Kennedy, in a landmark majority opinion, stated that the law attempted to:
“…control a personal relationship that…is within the liberty of persons to choose without being punished.”
Finally, in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriages, Obergefell v. Hodges, stating,
“the right to personal choice regarding marriage is inherent in the concept of individual autonomy.”
Although Obergefell dealt with marriage, their decision goes to the very core principles of individual autonomy and shouldn’t apply any different in workplace discrimination. With the historic trend of the Supreme Court rulings, it’s only a matter of time before sexual orientation and transgenders becomes legitimized as protected classes against sex-based discrimination.
Authored by Ashley Roncevic, LegalMatch Legal Writer and Attorney at Law