Workplace Sexual Orientation Discrimination Ruled Illegal Under Civil Rights Act

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The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled yesterday in a 3-2 vote that a provision of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The EEOC, which was created through the Civil Rights Act to enforce laws related to workplace discrimination, decided sexual orientation is an inherent part of a person’s sex, which is a protected category under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

“Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is premised on sex-based preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, or norms,” the decision said. “It follows, then, that sexual orientation is inseparable from and inescapably linked to sex and, therefore, that allegations of sexual orientation discrimination involve sex-based considerations.”

The ruling is a major step forward in protecting LGBT workplace rights. Although the Supreme Court has final say in such matters, the panel’s ruling would carry significant weight in a future decision by the high court.

LGBT rights groups hailed the decision as significant progress. But some, including Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin, said it also highlighted the need for broader, codified protections.

“While an important step, it also highlights the need for a comprehensive federal law permanently and clearly banning LGBT discrimination beyond employment to all areas of American life. Such a law would send a clear and permanent signal that discrimination against LGBT people will not be tolerated under any circumstances in this country, and we remain fully committed to making that happen," Griffin said in a news release.

The ruling immediately applies to all federal employees, but will also guide claims made by private employees who bring discrimination cases before the EEOC. 

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