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Historic Ruling Finds Title VII Prohibits Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits various forms of employment discrimination including discriminating “based on” sex. Courts have disagreed whether this includes sexual orientation.  In a historic decision, a Pennsylvania District Court held that it does, explicitly finding that prohibited sex discrimination under Title VII includes sexual orientation discrimination. 

In U.S. EEOC v. Scott Medical Heath Center, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania examined whether the phrase “discrimination based on sex” as used in federal law extends to and includes sexual orientation. In this instance, a gay male employee endured significant on the job harassment based on his sexual orientation. He ultimately quit his job to avoid further harassment and subsequently filed a sexual discrimination lawsuit against his employer, a medical center.  The medical center then sought to dismiss the case, arguing that sexual orientation discrimination does not fall within Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination.  The federal court however, rejected this argument and ruled in favor of the employee.  The court interpreted previous U.S. Supreme Court decisions which have found that “sex discrimination” includes employers taking negative employment actions against workers based on sex stereotypes and preconceived notions concerning how men and women should behave.

Specifically the court stated, “There is no more obvious form of sex stereo­typing than making a determination that a person should conform to heterosexuality.” 

The court further explained:

“That someone can be subjected to a barrage of insults, humili­ation, hostility and/or changes to the terms and conditions of their employment, based upon nothing more than the aggressor’s view of what it means to be a man or a woman, are exactly the evil Title VII was designed to eradicate.”

This case is an important victory in the efforts to eliminate work place discrimination. Establishing that employers who harass and discriminate against workers in the LGBTQ community may be found guilty of violating federal anti-discrimination laws, and potentially have to pay back wages and damages, can help prevent intolerance and negative employment actions in the workplace.

For more information, or if you have suffered any form of employment discrimination please contact our experienced Georgia employment discrimination lawyers at Buckley Beal, LLP for an immediate and confidential consultation.  

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