Government Rules LGBTQ People Protected From Employment Discrimination

The decision released on Thursday is a historic first step in outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation nationwide.

The decision released on Thursday is a historic first step in outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation nationwide. Shutterstock

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled Thursday that civil rights laws protect LGBTQ people from sexual orientation-based employment discrimination.

The 3-2 decision came in the case of Anthony Foxx, who worked as an air traffic control agent in Florida. Foxx in August 2012 filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging he was passed over for a promotion because he was gay.

The EEOC concluded the federal agency that employed Foxx had discriminated against him because he is gay following an agency investigation.

“When an employee raises a claim of sexual orientation discrimination as sex discrimination under Title VII, the question is not whether sexual orientation is explicitly listed in Title VII as a prohibited basis for employment actions,” the agency wrote. “It is not. Rather, the question for purposes of Title VII coverage of a sexual orientation claim is the same as any other Title VII case involving allegations of sex-discrimination—whether the agency as ‘relied on sex-based considerations’ or ‘take[n] gender into account’ when taking the challenged employment action.”

The ruling applies to federal employees’ claims against the government directly. The decision also applies in EEOC investigations of claims of private sector employment discrimination, which means last week’s decision is an important step in outlawing employment discrimination against the LGBTQ community generally.

The agency noted in the decision that nothing in the text of Title VII or the legislative history suggests “that Congress intended to confine the benefits of [the] statute to heterosexual employees alone.”

“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is premised on sex-based preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes and norms,” the agency wrote.

The decision explains how discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation fits within the existing framework of Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination. “Sexual orientation discrimination is also sex discrimination because it is associational discrimination on the basis of sex,” the decision reads. “That is, an employee alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is alleging that his or her employer took his or her sex into account by treating him or her differently for associating with a person of the same sex.”

The decision continues: “An employee could show that the sexual orientation discrimination he or she experienced was sex discrimination because it involved treatment that would not have occurred but for the individual’s sex; because it was based on the sex of the person(s) the individual associates with; and/or because it was premised on the fundamental sex stereotype, norm or expectation that individuals should be attracted only to those of the opposite sex.”

Thursday’s ruling follows a 2012 agency decision that held transgender workers are protected under the sex discrimination ban of Title VII and a ruling in April that denying transgender workers the use of a restroom consistent with their gender identity is employment discrimination.