Hopefully you’ve already heard that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has issued a groundbreaking ruling protecting gays and lesbians from employment discrimination. With this ruling in place, LGBT workers in all 50 states who experience employment discrimination can now file an EEOC complaint. “Allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex,” the commission concluded in a decision dated July 15.
While a few Congressmen have tried to introduce non-discrimination legislation that included the LGBT workers, it has always failed to make much headway. For years, Democratic Senator Al Franken has been trying to pass a bill to protect LGBT students in public schools from discrimination. And for years the bill, known as the Student Nondiscrimination Act, or SENDA, failed to even get voted out of committee. Recently, Franken’s legislation was added as amendment #2093 to S1177, aka the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” and last week it came up for a vote on the Senate floor. Senator Lamar Alexander led the charge to vote “no” claiming that it would cause lawsuits. As someone who was tormented as a child with “faggot” and “queer” while,in school, there needs to be some lawsuits to force teachers and administrators who often do nothing, to stand up for kids in their schools. This and other bills that have attempted to end discrimination against LGBT individuals in the public sector have increasingly been voted down by Congress.
Because of the issues facing such legislation, it is a huge step when the EEOC rules that all types of discrimination based on sexual orientation are forms of sex discrimination banned by the Civil Rights Act. Previously, the EEOC limited sexual orientation discrimination claims to cases where workers alleged they were victims of sex stereotypes. The 3-2 EEOC ruling came in a case brought by a federal air traffic control specialist in Miami, who contended he was denied a promotion because he was gay.
So that settles the issue, right? Sadly, that’s not necessarily true. Courts give weight to EEOC rulings, because they are the experts in the field, but it’s up to each court to decide whether to apply this ruling to claims by private-sector employees. SCOTUS does tend to rely on EEOC rulings, but that’s no guarantee.
In many states, it’s legal for employers to discriminate against workers — or not hire people in the first place — because of sexual orientation. That’s why gay activists have been pushing for federal legislation, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, that would make workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity against the law.
The EEOC ruling “is an enormous leap forward and will provide another important tool in the fight against employment discrimination and unemployment experienced by LGBTQ people,” said Rea Carey, executive director of the National LGBTQ Task force. “We need to further attack the scourge of discrimination in a comprehensive manner — and while LGBTQ people may file employment discrimination cases with the EEOC, we still need more. We must push for legislation that provides clear and strong protections for all LGBTQ people in every area of life — from housing to health care.”
“The fight for basic civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people just took a big step forward,” said American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project director, James Esseks. “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. 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.”