Every worker in the U.S. should be familiar with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which is a federal law that makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against someone based on sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. As you can see, sexual orientation is not one of the protected classes mentioned in this federal law. Does this mean employees are not protected against sexual orientation in the workplace? That remains to be seen.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is a federal agency responsible for investigating claims that employers have violated Title VII. According to the EEOC, sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, which is included in Title VII. Therefore, the EEOC protects workers who have accused their employers of discriminating against them based on their sexual orientation.
But, not everyone agrees. The Department of Justice (DOJ) recently argued that sexual orientation is not a form of sex discrimination, and therefore is not protected by Title VII. The DOJ argued that if an employer treats someone differently because of his sexual orientation, the behavior is motivated because of who the person loves, not his gender. Therefore, the DOJ concluded that sexual orientation cannot be considered a form of sex discrimination.
The DOJ and EEOC do not have the power to decide whether or not workers are protected against sexual orientation. Ultimately, the courts will have to decide how to interpret Title VII, and this decision will impact millions of workers in the U.S.
If the courts decide that Title VII does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, millions of employees may be discriminated against because of their sexual preferences. Victims will also not have the opportunity to take legal action in order to hold their employers accountable, since the discrimination would not be considered illegal.
It is estimated that there are over 62,000 LGBT workers in the state of Oklahoma that could be affected by the court’s decision. For now, LGBT employees should continue to seek help from employment law attorneys if they believe they are being discriminated against due to their sexual orientation.
The attorneys at Armstrong & Vaught, P.L.C. are committed to helping employees protect their rights in the workplace. If you have been discriminated against, speak to one of our attorneys to learn about your legal options. Call today at 918-582-2500, or toll free at (800) 722-8880, or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.