Proactive employers will update their equal employment opportunity policies, procedures and practices or face legal and financial consequences in the wake of an historic March 1, 2016, filing of two sex discrimination cases based on sexual orientation.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed its first two sexual orientation discrimination claims against private-sector employers, alleging violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The idea is that since Title VII prohibits discrimination and retaliation based on a person’s sex, that harassment or retaliation due to somebody’s sexual orientation is also unlawful.
In EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C., the EEOC alleges that a gay male employee was subject to a sexually hostile work environment under Title VII when the man’s manager repeatedly directed offensive phrases and comments about his sexuality and sexual behavior toward him. The harassment continued even after the employee filed an internal complaint, according to the suit.
In EEOC v. Pallet Companies d/b/a IFCO Systems NA, the EEOC alleges that a lesbian employee was harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation and was forced to endure various insults about her sexual orientation and appearance. The employee allegedly complained to management and called the employee hotline about the harassment. The company fired her just a few days later in retaliation for making the complaints, according to the charges.
Litigation of this kind will only increase, as the EEOC has made it clear in its Strategic Enforcement Plan that addressing LGBT discrimination in the workplace is a national priority.
In fiscal year 2015, the EEOC received 1,412 charges alleging sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination.
Examples of LGBT-Related Sex Discrimination Claims
Some examples of LGBT-related claims that the EEOC views as unlawful sex discrimination include:
- Failing to hire, denying a promotion to, discriminating in terms and conditions of employment, harassing or firing employees because they are LGBT.
- Denying an employee equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity.
Employers are urged to review and reassess their anti-discrimination policies, as well as all internal complaint procedures to ensure they adequately protect against sexual orientation discrimination and harassment.
Specifically, employers should:
- Include sexual orientation in their EEO policy. Most Fortune 500 companies already do this.
- Ensure employees know how to report discrimination and harassment claims internally.
- Train managers and supervisors to identify potential instances of discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation.
- Train managers and supervisors on how to address employee complaints relating to sexual orientation.
- Review the EEOC publication What You Should Know About EEOC and the Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers.
Consider engaging CJC HR Services to perform harassment and retaliation training with a focus on sexual orientation for employees and managers. Learn more at www.cjchrservices.com