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The EEOC seeks to broaden Title VII

New Jersey professionals who have faced hostile work environments or discrimination may be pleased to learn that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed lawsuits against two employers asserting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The two actions mark the first instances of EEOC litigation revolving around sexual orientation. Legal observers say the cases may offer an indication of whether the commission can successfully augment the protections of Title VII anti-discrimination laws. The cases are also notable in that the conduct by the accused employers would have been illegal had it occurred for reasons other than sexual orientation.

In one of the cases, a gay male employee claimed that his supervisor continually created a hostile work environment by requesting intimate details about his home life and relationships. When the employee filed a formal complaint, his bosses outright declined to do anything, and he eventually had to quit.

The other lawsuit occurred after a male supervisor made flagrantly-inappropriate comments and sexual advances towards a lesbian forklift driver. After the woman complained, her employer simply requested that she quit and terminated her when she declined. Both cases were filed with similar allegations based on the idea that Title VII forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation as a form of sex discrimination.

Sexual harassment laws are transforming to keep up with social norms, but change is slow. Test cases that seek to establish rights for formerly unprotected classes may not be decided in time to stop all harassment and protect vulnerable workers. Instead of waiting for the rules to change, victims of employment discrimination may want to meet with attorneys to determine what their remedies may be.

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