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EEOC announces settlement in historic sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal agency tasked with enforcing anti-discrimination laws, made history when it filed one of the first ever sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits back in March.

The lawsuit in question was filed on behalf of a lesbian employee who worked at a Baltimore-area packaging manufacturer, and was purportedly subjected to ongoing harassment by a supervisor as well as retaliation. Specifically, the suit alleged that the supervisor repeatedly made inappropriate comments and gestures toward the employee, and that she was fired within days of reporting this conduct to management.

In recent developments, the EEOC announced earlier this week that it had reached a settlement in the precedent-setting case with the packaging manufacturer admitting to no wrongdoing, yet agreeing to pay the aggrieved employee $182,200, donate $20,000 to the Human Rights Campaign's workplace equality program, and revise its discrimination policies.

What makes the case so groundbreaking is that while the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, expressly prohibits employer discrimination based on race, color, national origin, sex and religion, it does not make any mention of sexual orientation. However, the EEOC argued persuasively that the prohibition against discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It's worth noting that Florida law, like federal law, does not expressly protect members of the LGBT community from workplace discrimination. However, 19 cities and ten counties -- including Broward County -- have employment protection measures for LGBT workers on the books, while the Florida Commission on Human Relations is gradually accepting more of these cases under the category of discrimination based on sex.  

What all of this serves to underscore is that employers need to be aware that both state and federal officials are taking the issue of discrimination based on sexual orientation very seriously and, as such, internal discrimination policies may need to be revised and the necessary trainings held.

To learn more about your rights and responsibilities as an employer, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional. 

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