New EEOC Ruling Protects Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Employees

July 16, 2015 6:30 pm

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WASHINGTON — The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission today issued a decision that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination that is outlawed by existing federal law.

In 2012, the EEOC issued a similar ruling that discrimination based on gender identity or expression is also a form of sex discrimination that violates federal law, which set an important precedent for protecting transgender employees. Both rulings are landmark advances for civil rights. Now anyone who works for an employer with 15 or more employees can file a charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC if she is discriminated against because of her sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

“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. “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.”

Despite the EEOC ruling, neither Congress nor state legislatures have passed explicit civil rights protections for LGBT employees. The ACLU argues that these protections should not be left to the courts because they may not all interpret this ruling with an even hand, and rulings like this one cannot provide comprehensive protections against sexual orientation discrimination in contexts such as public accommodations and federal funding, where there are no bans on sex discrimination to piggy back on.

“Employers as well as employees deserve the clarity that comes with express federal and state protections that everyone understands,” added Esseks. “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.”

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