Judge says anti-gay discrimination case can move forward

On Nov. 4, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled a workplace anti-gay discrimination case can move forward because it violated Title VII’s protections based on sex discrimination. However, in an interesting footnote, the presiding judge also agreed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s assertion that sex discrimination is comparable to racial discrimination. The decision could provide a new prism through which to consider discrimination cases in New York and nationwide.

The EEOC filed the case against Scott Medical Health Center over allegations a male employee subjected a male subordinate to anti-gay harassment. The employee is accused of calling the subordinate a “fag” and a “queer” among other derogatory statements. He also made lewd comments about the subordinate’s sex life. The EEOC claims the repeated harassment created a hostile working environment.

The EEOC has taken the position that discrimination based on sexual orientation constitutes discrimination based on sex stereotyping. The judge agreed with that position but also found compelling an EEOC argument comparing sex discrimination to discrimination faced by interracial couples. In 1981, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit ruled that discrimination against an employee based on a personal relationship with a person of another race is a violation of Title VII. Based on that ruling, the EEOC argued that discriminating against an employee based on a personal relationship with a same-sex partner is also a violation. The judge wrote that the court did not fully examine that claim only because the EEOC’s first argument was sufficient.

New York employees who face a hostile working environment may want to meet with an attorney to see how best to proceed. If a complaint has been made to the appropriate parties set forth in the company manual but the condition continues, the next step might be to file a claim with the EEOC or applicable state agency.

Source: Think Progress, “Why anti-gay discrimination is illegal, in one short footnote,” Zack Ford, Nov. 7, 2016

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