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Sexual orientation protection under discrimination law

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from being discriminated against based on their color, national origin, race, religion or sex. Since Title VII does not list sexual orientation, federal courts have rejected such discrimination claims. The LGBT community in New York is likely thrilled to learn that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has decided that sexual orientation discrimination is innately sex discrimination and, therefore, is covered under Title VII.

In the discrimination case, an unidentified male employee said that he worked in Miami, Florida, for the Federal Aviation Administration as a temporary air traffic controller manager for about two years. His supervisor, he claims, would call him a distraction and told him that the workers did not need to listen to "gay stuff" when he would mention his male partner.

The employee also claimed that he was overlooked for a permanent air traffic controller management role because of his sexual orientation. Although he did not fill out an official application for the role, he says that all temporary managing controllers were considered automatically and his desire for a permanent job was known to his supervisor, who participated in the job selection process.

The worker submitted a formal complaint to the EEOC, and after an investigation, the agency determined that the complaint was untimely and dismissed it. After an appeal, the agency reversed its decision and, with further investigation, decided that sexual orientation and sex discrimination are the same because sexual orientation is linked to sex.

Despite this, federal courts do not have to follow EEOC rulings, so how this decision affects future litigation involving sexual orientation discrimination is unclear. With the fast pace at which laws and courts are addressing LGBT rights, employers may do well to consider the EEOC decision and how it could affect future court rulings. Additionally, workers who believe that they are the victim of sexual orientation discrimination at their jobs could talk to employment law attorneys about the latest legal developments and the options available for taking action against their employers.

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