Federal Court: Sexual Orientation Discrimination Is Sex Discrimination

11.08.2016
HR & Safety

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced on Nov. 7 that a federal court has denied a motion to dismiss a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the EEOC, ruling that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
On March 1, 2016, the EEOC filed the U.S. government’s first sex discrimination lawsuit based on sexual orientation, U.S. EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh.
In its complaint, the EEOC charged that a gay male employee was subjected to sex discrimination in the form of harassment because of his sexual orientation and then forced to quit his job rather than endure further harassment.
In response to the EEOC’s lawsuit, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case.

The Court’s Reasoning

In a decision issued on Nov. 4 by U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon, the court denied Scott Medical Health Center’s motion to dismiss EEOC’s case.
In its ruling, the court found that sexual orientation discrimination is a type of discrimination “because of sex,” which is barred by Title VII.

Sexual orientation discrimination is a type of discrimination 'because of sex,' which is barred by Title VII.

Applying decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court’s finding that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination includes adverse treatment of workers based on “sex stereotypes,” i.e., preconceived ideas of how a man or a woman should act or think, the federal court stated, “There is no more obvious form of sex stereotyping than making a determination that a person should conform to heterosexuality.”
The federal court then concluded, “That someone can be subjected to a barrage of insults, humiliation, hostility, and/or changes to the terms and conditions of their employment based upon nothing more than the aggressor’s view of what it means to be a man or a woman, is exactly the evil Title VII was designed to eradicate.”
While the federal court made a legal ruling in the case, to date there has been no trial or factual finding whether discrimination occurred.
The court’s decision is consistent with EEOC’s reading of Title VII’s sex discrimination ban.
As the federal law enforcement agency charged with interpreting and enforcing Title VII, EEOC has previously concluded that harassment and other discrimination because of sexual orientation is prohibited sex discrimination.

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