Employment Law Report

EEOC Files First Title VII Suits Alleging Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation

By Michelle High

discriminationOn Tuesday, March 1, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) filed two sex discrimination lawsuits in federal court that are premised upon the Commission’s position that sexual orientation discrimination is a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The first lawsuit filed by the EEOC was filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania against Scott Medical Health Center.  In the suit, the EEOC alleges that a gay male employee was subjected to harassment because of his sexual orientation and/or because he did not conform to the employer’s gender-based expectations, preferences, or stereotypes. The employee’s immediate supervisor knew that the employee was gay and repeatedly subjected him to anti-gay epithets and offensive comments about his sexuality and sex life. When the employee complained about the harassment, no corrective action was taken. Following two to three more weeks of the alleged harassment, the employee resigned to avoid being subjected to the offensive conduct. EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C. (W.D. Pa, No. 2:16-cv-00225-CB)

The second lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division against Pallet Companies d/b/a IFCO Systems, NA (“IFCO”). In the suit against IFCO, the EEOC contends that a lesbian employee was harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation. Specifically, the EEOC has asserted that a lesbian forklift operator had endured harassing comments from her night shift manager. According to the Complaint, the comments included such statements as, “I want to turn you back into a woman,” “I want you to like men again,” and “Are you a man or a woman?” Other allegations in the Complaint include the assertion that the manager engaged in crude gestures and quoted biblical passages to her regarding the appropriateness of heterosexual relationships. Several days after complaining to management and raising a concern through the employee hotline, IFCO terminated the woman’s employment. It is the EEOC’s contention that the termination was retaliatory in nature. EEOC v. Pallet Companies d/b/a IFCO Systems NA, Inc. (“IFCO”) (D. Md., No. 1:16-cv-00595-RDB)

The Commission’s current Strategic Enforcement Plan identifies coverage of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender individuals under Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions to be a top enforcement priority. In a recent press release, EEOC General Counsel David Lopez stated, “With the filing of these two suits, [the] EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in the workplace because of their sexual orientation.” Lopez also stated that, “While some federal courts have begun to recognize this right under Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), it is critical that all courts do so.”