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EEOC says employment discrimination based on sexual orientation already illegal in US

EEOC says employment discrimination based on sexual orientation already illegal in US

The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled Thursday (16 July) that gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers are already protected against sexual orientation-based employment discrimination through existing federal law.

The EEOC decision is seen as a landmark advance and follows a 2012 ruling that was based on gender identity or expression.

Now anyone who works for an employer with 15 or more employees can file a charge of sex discrimination with the EEOC if they are discriminated against because of sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT Project Director James Esseks called the decision ‘a big step forward’ in the fight for basic civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people.

‘Lesbian, gay, and bisexual people all across the country now have a place to turn if an employer fires them because of their sexual orientation,’ Esseks said in a statement.

‘This is a significant development because protections for gay and transgender people are almost nonexistent in federal law, and 28 states also lack state-level protections.’

But this does not mean there are plans to abandon the effort to get the Employment Non-Discrimination Act passed. ENDA has languished in the US C0ngress for decades. The bill’s failure to pass in Congress has some advocates believing the only route is for President Barack Obama to sign an executive order.

‘Employers as well as employees deserve the clarity that comes with express federal and state protections that everyone understands,’ Esseks stated. ‘That’s why we’ll continue to work for express and comprehensive protections. The EEOC ruling is a monumental step forward and provides important protections for millions of Americans, and that’s something to celebrate.”

Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin called the EEOC’s decision ‘historic’ but agreed that it isn’t enough.

‘While an important step, it also highlights the need for a comprehensive federal law permanently and clearly banning LGBT discrimination beyond employment to all areas of American life,’ Griffin stated. ‘Such a law would send a clear and permanent signal that discrimination against LGBT people will not be tolerated under any circumstances in this country, and we remain fully committed to making that happen.’

EEOC rulings are not binding on federal courts but are considered to be persuasive, according to HRC.