Tuesday afternoon, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced its first ever lawsuits alleging sexual orientation discrimination.
In separate complaints, the agency claims that two private employers in Pennsylvania and Maryland harassed gay employees and subjected them to hostile work environments. While the EEOC first opined that sexual orientation was a protected class in a 2015 federal case, Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time the agency actively pursued litigation under that assertion.
The suits signal a turning point in the enforcement of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In a press release, the EEOC presented its interpretation of the 52-year-old law:
“Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination because of sex. As the federal law enforcement agency charged with interpreting and enforcing Title VII, the EEOC has concluded that harassment and other discrimination because of sexual orientation is prohibited sex discrimination.”
Just over 20 states have passed laws prohibiting sex discrimination in the workplace. The EEOC’s recent stance on Title VII would effectively extend those protections nationwide.
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