The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission found this week that federal law protects gay and lesbian workers from discrimination.
In a ruling released Wednesday, the EEOC determined that discrimination based on sexual orientation constitutes a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits sex discrimination. The decision was made by an independent commission of the EEOC in addressing a complaint brought by a Florida-based air-traffic control specialist against the U.S. Transportation Department.
The EEOC in 2012 found that the Civil Rights Act’s sex-discrimination clause prohibits discrimination based on gender identity.
While EEOC determinations do not change federal or state law, they are integral in shaping future federal court decisions.
“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,” said American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT project director James Esseks. “ 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.”
Pennsylvania is one of those states that does not yet have an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law.
Advocates are hoping the ruling will encourage action on state measures and the long-stalled federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity against workers across the country.
“Discrimination has no place in America, plain and simple,” said Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin. “This historic ruling by the EEOC makes clear they agree workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, much like gender identity, is illegal. 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.”