Federal Court Rules Sexual Orientation Discrimination Falls Under Title VII

On November 4, 2016, Federal District Judge Cathy Bissoon of the Western District of Pennsylvania ruled in favor of the EEOC’s position that sexual orientation discrimination fell under the protection of Title VII (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Scott Medical Health Ctr, P.C., No. 16-225 (W.D. Pa).

During the course of investigating the facts surrounding complaints from six female employees, the EEOC discovered the discrimination toward Dale Baxley, a gay male employee of Scott Medical Health Center. According to the order, Mr. Baxley’s supervisor routinely called him a “fag,” “faggot,” and “queer.” The supervisor also continually questioned how Mr. Baxley and his partner had sex.

Scott Medical moved to dismiss the case on the basis sexual orientation was not a protected class under Title VII. Judge Bissoon disagreed. Specifically, the judge ruled that sexual orientation was protected on the basis of sex discrimination under Title VII. Judge Bissoon stated in her opinion that, “[t]he Court see no meaningful difference between sexual orientation discrimination and discrimination ‘because of sex.'”

Despite Judge Bissoon’s order in the Scott Medical case, the federal circuits are well-split when recognizing sexual orientation discrimination as a viable claim of discrimination. The key takeaway for employers is to be imminently aware of the laws where they operate. While there is no federal standard regarding sexual orientation discrimination, many states, counties and municipalities have varying degrees of protections for LGBTQ employees.