New York Employment Law Blog

Sunday, August 28, 2016

EEOC Extends Title VII Protections

Can a discrimination claim be brought based on sexual orientation or gender identity?

In July, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a bulletin clarifying the prohibition of sex discrimination under Title VII of Civil Rights Act includes employment discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation and that it intends to enforce the law accordingly.

This action is designed to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination and retaliation regardless of state and local laws to the contrary. While local and state laws already in place prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity still stand, the EEOC will enforce these prohibitions  in jurisdictions that permit, or do not prohibit, these forms of discrimination.

The Backdrop

The EEOC has long been working toward covering members of the LGBT community under Title VII's sex discrimination protections. The bulletin is the culmination of the agency's 2012-2016 Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP) which made a priority of covering LGBT individuals under Title VII. The SEP prompted the agency's decision in a discrimination claim in 2012 was its first ruling that Title VII prohibited discrimination of a job applicant based on her transgender status.

In that decision, the EEOC relied on a Supreme Court ruling from 1989 which held that discrimination in the workplace includes sex stereotyping. The expansion of Title VII protections draws on a number of federal court rulings since 2000 affirming Title VII’s applicability to employment discrimination based on both gender identity and sexual orientation.

The Takeaway

Because Title VII applies to employers with at least 15 employees, it is crucial for many businesses to update their employment discrimination policies to reflect the EEOC's ruling. It is also essential to train and educate all personnel in order to prevent discrimination and harassment in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Denying fringe or medical benefits to employees because of their gender identity or sexual orientation is prohibited as well.

In the end, businesses that violate Title VII provisions may ultimately be required to pay compensatory and punitive damages that vary depending on the size of the company. If you have any questions about the EEOC's latest ruling on the application of Title VII sex discrimination prohibitions, you should speak to an experienced employment discrimination attorney.

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