In March of 2015 the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), the federal agency tasked with the enforcement of our country’s anti-discrimination laws, filed what could become a historic lawsuit. The EEOC asserted that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act’s (“Title VII”) provision against sexual discrimination.
U.S. EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center involves a gay male employee who was subjected to negative comments about his sexual orientation by his supervisor. The complaint alleges that the supervisor routinely called the employee offensive names such as “fag,” “faggot,” and “queer.” The supervisor also asked about the employee’s sexual experiences and preferences, commenting “I always wondered how you fags have sex” and questioning “Who’s the butch and who is the bitch.
On November 4, 2016, District Court Judge Cathy Bisssoon of the Western District of Pennsylvania decided that sexual orientation discrimination clearly falls under the sexual discrimination provision of Title VII and stated that it was the “evil Title VII was designed to eradicate.” This is the first time that a federal court judge in Pennsylvania has recognized a cause of action for sexual orientation under Title VII.
Currently, Pennsylvania state law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation; although certain cities and municipalities do. The EEOC’s interpretation of federal law, and a Pennsylvania Federal Court Judge’s willingness to interpret Title VII as covering sexual orientation, is a big step forward for those who are discriminated against based on their sexual orientation because it opens up a potential avenue of relief where previously there was none.