The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) affirmed on Thursday that discrimination against employees based on sexual orientation is prohibited under Title VII, a federal statute barring discrimination in employment.
The EEOC’s ruling means that anyone who works for an employer with 15 or more employees can pursue a federal claim of sex discrimination if he or she is discriminated against because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression.
The ruling is significant. In the past, courts have ruled that Title VII does not cover discrimination based on sexual orientation, because sexual orientations is not explicitly mentioned in the law. The EEOC’s ruling finds otherwise. The EEOC concluded that “[s]exual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex.” The EEOC further found that 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.”
While Illinois protects individuals from employment discrimination based on sexual orientation under state law, 28 states lack state-level protections.