Most people know that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from sex discrimination when it comes to any aspect of employment and makes it unlawful to harass a person because of that person’s sex. But what about discrimination against LGBT people? What does this mean for those seeking protection based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity?
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has made it no secret that one of their major areas of focus is on the rights of the LGBT community in the workplace. In early March, the EEOC filed its first lawsuits alleging that an employer had violated Title VII by discriminating based on sexual orientation. Recently, one of those lawsuits settled. The EEOC and Pallet Cos., which does business as IFCO Systems NA, entered into a Consent Decree to end the lawsuit in exchange for a settlement of $202,200. Not shabby for their first sexual orientation bias lawsuit.
Although this is good news for those in the LGBT community who have been striving for workplace equality for so long, it still doesn’t answer the question of whether or not it is against federal law for employers to discriminate against employees based on LGBT status. Since this case settled prior to trial, we still do not know how the court would have weighed in on that issue.
But there’s another opportunity; and this time it’s in North Carolina. The EEOC announced last week that they have filed another lawsuit alleging that Title VII protects employees from harassment based on gender identity and sexual orientation. This case involves an employee who identifies as a woman that worked at a Bojangles in Fayetteville, North Carolina. The EEOC suit alleges a hostile workplace at Bojangles based upon repeated offensive comments made by a manager and assistant managers to a transgendered employee about her gender identity and appearance. The employee complained and was terminated shortly after.
At this point, only time will tell if the EEOC will reach another sizable settlement or if a court will finally have the opportunity to weigh in on whether Title VII encompasses discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and/or gender identification. In the meantime, I’m sure we will be seeing several more EEOC charges and lawsuits making the allegations regarding discrimination against LGBT workers.