It’s hard to believe, but in 2016 there is no law at the federal level explicitly protecting gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people from workplace discrimination. However, there is some indication that this may be beginning to change at the federal level, complementing an Illinois law that has protected employment rights of the LGBT community for the past decade.
With no federal protections in place for LGBT employees, the EEOC has been working with the laws already on the books to bring employment discrimination actions against employers who discriminate based on sexual orientation. In March 2016, the EEOC brought its first two actions under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, alleging sexual discrimination based on sexual orientation.
While Title VII was implemented to protect employees from discrimination based on their sex, the EEOC’s new interpretation of the law is that it is a violation of Title VII’s protections to discriminate based on sexual orientation because it does not conform with an employer’s expectations of how members of a certain gender should act. In the two new EEOC cases, one brought by a gay man in Pennsylvania, and the other brought be a lesbian woman in Maryland, the plaintiffs allege they were forced from their jobs after numerous anti-gay comments were made by supervisors. Whether or not this theory put forth by the EEOC holds up as a proper use of Title VII will need to be determined by the courts.
While the EEOC works to determine whether sexual orientation is a protected class under Title VII, Illinois residents enjoy protection from LGBT discrimination under the Illinois Human Rights Act. This law explicitly bans employment discrimination within the state based on either sexual orientation or gender identity. The EEOC’s efforts to now enforce protections for LGBT people in the workplace may actually have an unforeseen yet positive effect on lawsuits brought under the Illinois Human Rights Act.
Under Illinois law, a state lawsuit alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation must be brought within 180 days of the adverse employment action. But the time to bring an employment discrimination action under state law also depends on the statute of limitations under federal law. With the EEOC now bringing actions alleging discrimination based on sexual orientation, this means that state claims now have 300 days to be filed, the same as under federal law. And bringing a Title VII action for sexual discrimination with the state action now also means that an employee can recover punitive damages, which can significantly increase the amount of any award recovered in the case.
No one should lose their job because of who they are. If you believe you’ve been discriminated at your job because of your sexual orientation or gender identity, then you should speak with an experienced Roselle employment discrimination attorney. Contact the Law Office of Michael T. Smith today for a consultation.