Business Law Alert: EEOC Files Suit against Employers for Sexual Orientation Discrimination.

On March 1, 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), for the first time, filed lawsuits against private employers claiming that the law barring discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based upon sexual orientation.   

The EEOC’s action is a significant step.  Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act (“Title VII”) prohibits discrimination based upon sex, but does not expressly reference sexual orientation.  In announcing the lawsuits, the EEOC expressed its view that sexual orientation discrimination is, by its very nature, discrimination based upon sex, and is therefore prohibited by Title VII.

Although the EEOC’s lawsuits are the first lawsuits filed by the EEOC against private employers seeking redress for sexual orientation discrimination, it is important to note that many states, including Illinois, already expressly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  Illinois’ law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination is set forth in the Illinois Human Rights Act, 775 ILCS 5/1-101 et seq.
It is unclear at this time whether federal courts will uphold the EEOC’s interpretation of Title VII.  However, as a result of the EEOC’s recent action, and because sexual orientation discrimination is already barred by many states, including Illinois, it is a good time for employers to review their employee handbooks and internal policies to make sure they are proper and compliant.

The attorneys at Gozdecki, Del Giudice, Americus, Farkas & Brocato LLP are prepared to answer any questions you may have regarding this Business Law Alert, and to assist you in reviewing and/or modifying any employee handbooks and/or policies, including policies prohibiting discrimination.  If you would like to speak with an attorney about any of the issues raised in this Business Law Alert, please contact us at (312)782-5010. Information contained in this Business Law Alert should not be construed as legal advice or opinion.