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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 4, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 10
Historic first: EEOC files lawsuits to protect Gay employees
Section One
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Historic first: EEOC files lawsuits to protect Gay employees

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced March 2 that it has filed two lawsuits against companies, charging them with discrimination against Gay and Lesbian employees.

These are the first federal lawsuits of their kind, and they follow the EEOC's groundbreaking July 2015 ruling that federal laws against sex discrimination protect Gay and Lesbian employees.

That ruling opened the door for Gay or Lesbian employees to seek federal protection against discrimination in hiring, firing, promotions, wages, and working conditions.

Because federal civil rights laws do not explicitly cover sexual orientation and gender identity, EEOC oversight is the only federal remedy for Gay and Lesbian employees who face discrimination or harassment in the workplace.

The EEOC is the federal agency charged with enforcing civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.

The first of the two EEOC lawsuits is against Pennsylvania-based Scott Medical Health Center. Dale Baxley, a Gay employee, said he resigned after facing continual harassment, including 'various anti-gay epithets' and 'highly offensive comments about his sexuality and sex life,' the EEOC charges.

When he complained to his superiors, he was informed that the manager was 'just doing his job.' He eventually quit.

Pennsylvania laws only protect public employees against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. They do not apply to employees of private companies, so Baxley's only remedy was a complaint to the EEOC under the terms of its 2015 ruling on sex discrimination.

The second lawsuit is against IFCO Systems, a food pallet manufacturer in Maryland. A Lesbian employee, Yolanda Boone, says she endured verbal harassment, including a supervisor threatening her with rape.

He wanted 'to turn [her] back into a woman,' the supervisor told her, and added she would 'look good in a dress.' When she complained to management, she was fired, the EEOC filing says.

Unlike Pennsylvania, Maryland has state laws that protect LGBT employees in the private sector as well as in public employment. However, the EEOC has been inviting workers to submit complaints about discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation since 2013.

In announcing the lawsuits, the EEOC said that it tried to settle both cases before suing the two employers but failed to do so.

'With the filing of these two suits, EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation,' EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said in a statement. 'While some federal courts have begun to recognize this right under Title VII, it is critical that all courts do so.'

The EEOC's 2015 ruling that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers a worker's sexual orientation has never before been litigated, making it likely that any district court ruling in favor of the EEOC would be appealed.

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