EEOC Rules 1964 Civil Rights Act Covers LGBT Workers

gay-rightsAfter last month’s historic move to nationally recognize same-sex marriages, the next battlegrounds for gay rights in America are housing and employment protections.

Now it seems a major step has been taken on the latter, potentially putting to rest for good the ability to fire an employee based on his or her sexual orientation. That’s huge!

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, created to enforce and implement the 1964 Civil Rights Act, ruled this week that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal.

The ruling states that employers who discriminate against LGBT workers are violating Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination “based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin.”

It’s a new interpretation of the law with wide-reaching potential.

In the past, courts have ruled that Title VII doesn’t apply to sexual orientation because it isn’t explicitly mentioned, but the new interpretation accounts for LGBT discrimination under the umbrella of sex discrimination.

“Sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee’s sex,” the EEOC concluded.

It’s similar to how racial discrimination extends to relationships. Just as a man can’t be fired for dating a woman of a different race, the same man can’t be fired for dating a person of the same sex.

Oddly enough, Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the dissent in the marriage equality case, hinted at this same logic during sessions considering whether or not to take the case.

“If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can’t,” Roberts argued in April. “And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn’t that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?”

What remains unclear is how this new interpretation will affect current efforts to pass legislation specific to protecting LGBT employees.

Of course, these new guidelines only help if you can prove you were fired for being gay. But it’s a cause for celebration nonetheless.