With the new laws regarding same sex marriage, it is no surprise that the issue of sexual orientation discrimination is coming to the forefront once again. The primary federal discrimination law in the employment context, Title VII, makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of sex, race, religion, color, and national origin. However, Title VII does not explicitly prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. So, where does that leave the LGBT community of workers who continue to suffer discrimination?
Recognizing Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Sexual orientation discrimination includes being treated differently or subjected to unwelcome harassment because of a person's real or perceived sexual orientation. This type of discrimination affects gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and heterosexuals.
The Current State of Sexual Orientation Laws
The United States Supreme Court has actually recognized claims of sexual stereotyping under Title VII. President Obama has pledged his support to a bill that would amend Title VII to specifically protect sexual orientation. However, the passing of that amendment currently seems unlikely. Meanwhile, the EEOC continues to pursue claims of sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII.
Current State Laws Addressing Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Believe it or not, there may be hope at the state level. Nearly half the states and the District of Columbia have laws that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in both public and private jobs: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. You may not be surprised, though, that Alabama is not one of these states.
Recent Federal Decision in Alabama Shows Promise
Alabama, unlike many states, does not have a state administrative agency that accepts discrimination charges. In fact, the only anti-discrimination state law in Alabama relates only to age discrimination. Although there is no state law in Alabama that addresses sexual orientation discrimination, there has been a recent federal case, coming out of the Middle District of Alabama, which seems promising. In that case, the federal judge ruled that sexual orientation is considered sex discrimination and, therefore, a violation of Title VII. This is a ground breaking decision.
Isaacs v. Felder Services, LLC
At the end of last month, Judge Myron H. Thompson, a federal judge in the Middle District of Alabama, agreed with the EEOC's view that "claims of sexual orientation-based discrimination are cognizable under Title VII," in his opinion in Isaacs v. Felder Services, LLC. Although Judge Thompson ruled against the plaintiff on the merits of his discrimination claim, based on those specific facts, he nonetheless recognized that a sexual orientation discrimination claim is cognizable under Title VII.
The EEOC's Explanation of the Claim
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission explains persuasively why "an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII, based on Eleventh Circuit precedent:
Title VII … prohibits employers from treating an employee or applicant differently than other employees or applicants based on the fact that such individuals are in a same-sex marriage or because the employee has [or is interested in having] a personal association with someone of a particular sex. Adverse action on that basis is, "by definition," discrimination because of the employee or applicant's sex.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination, or if you have any questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment attorneys at Michel | King , either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880.