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EEOC: Sexual Orientation Discrimination Is Already Illegal

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has ruled that gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers don't need extra protection from discrimination in the workplace ... because they are already covered. Any discrimination based on sexual orientation would amount to discrimination based on sex, which is prohibited by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The announcement comes three years after the EEOC prohibited discrimination based on gender identity, and less than a month after the Supreme Court ruled that same-sex couples have the right to marry.

Sex = Sexual Orientation

As the EEOC said in its ruling, "allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex," and will therefore be treated as sex discrimination claims. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act already bans workplace discrimination based on gender.

The commission extended that protection to sexual orientation discrimination because it "necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of the employee's sex" and "because it is associational discrimination on the basis of sex." The ruling is binding on federal employers and gives private applicants and employees a cause of action if they feel they've been discriminated against based on their sexual orientation.

LGBT and the EEOC

Good employer practice is to never discriminate. Best employer practice is to foster an LGBT-friendly workplace. How?

  • Include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" in your (hopefully already existing) anti-discrimination policies. Existing and prospective employees should know that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees are protected from unfair employment decisions just like any other employee.
  • Increase your LGBT fluency. You may need to train your staff to use appropriate language and appropriate behavior to show employees that everyone will be treated fairly.

You can also check out FindLaw's sample anti-discrimination policies for more ideas.

To make sure your small business is EEOC-compliant, you might want to talk to an experienced employment law attorney in your area.

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