Is Sexual Orientation Discrimination a form of Sex Discrimination under the Civil Rights Act of 1964?

By Ilona Demenina Anderson

A homosexual male employee was harassed at work because of his sexual orientation. He endured insults and was humiliated and endured hostility in the workplace because of his homosexual orientation. He quit his job rather than continue to endure the harassment. He then filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for violation of his right to a workplace free from sex discrimination. Sex discrimination is prohibited under Civil Rights Act of 1964.

On March 1, 2016, the EEOC, having terminated its fact-finding investigation of the case, decided to file suit in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, U.S. EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center (Case 2:16-cv-00225-CB). In its complaint, the EEOC alleged that Scott Medical Health Center subjected the homosexual employee to sexual discrimination by harassing him because of his sexual orientation.

Scott Medical Health Center immediately filed a Motion to Dismiss on the ground that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 indeed prohibited sexual discrimination in the workplace, but this only applied to harassment on the basis of sex (being male or female) but not on the basis of sexual orientation (choosing to have sexual relations with persons of the same sex).

The US District Court Judge denied the motion to dismiss filed by Scott Medical Center. The court ruled that discrimination as to sexual orientation is a type of sex discrimination prohibited under the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The discrimination as to sexual orientation was discrimination that was attributable to the person’s sex. The court explained that in discriminating against persons of a particular sexual orientation, the main assumption of any harassment is based on stereotypes about sex. That is, that there are pre-conceived ideas of how a male or a female should act or think.

In the case of the gay male employee, he was harassed for his sexual orientation because the underlying presumption of the aggressors in the workplace was that males can only and should only be attracted to females and not to males. This constitutes a sexual stereotyping that pre-determines that a person should conform to heterosexual norms.

The gay male employee endured insults, humiliation, hostility and even a change in the terms and conditions of his employment on the basis of the aggressor’s view that being a man means having sexual desires only for women and not for other men. This is the type of harassment that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 sought to eradicate.

In 2015, the EEOC also held the same view in the appealed case of Baldwin v. Dept. of Transportation. The EEOC argued that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is included under the term “sex discrimination.” It explained that the term “sex discrimination” includes discrimination because of sexual orientation because sexual orientation discrimination also involves a disparate or less favorable treatment of a worker; that sexual orientation discrimination is rooted in prevailing sexual stereotypes and heterosexual gender norms; and it involves an unfavorable treatment of an employee on the basis of the employee’s relationships with members of a particular sex.

Have you experienced being bullied and singled out at work because of your sexual orientation? Have you been made a butt of jokes because of it? Have you been forced to resign because of the hostile and humiliating conditions at work? Are you treated less favorably as to wages, salaries, benefits, privileges and promotions at work because of your sexual orientation? Call us today to speak with one of our experienced discrimination attorneys about your options.

References:

EEOC Press Release: Federal Court Issues Historic Ruling in EEOC Lawsuit

EEOC: Baldwin v. Dept. of Transportation Decision 

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