EEOC Settles First Sexual Orientation Lawsuit

In early March, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed its first lawsuits, in which it alleged that employer had violated Title VII by discriminating based on sexual orientation.

Late last week, one of those lawsuits settled. (A second, against Scott Medical Health Center, is pending.)

Dani Kass from Law360 reports here that the EEOC and IFCO Systems NA, entered into a consent decree to end the lawsuit.

Here’s more on the lawsuit from the EEOC press release:

In its suit against IFCO Systems, EEOC charged that a lesbian employee was harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation. Her supervisor made numerous comments to her regarding her sexual orientation and appearance, such as, “I want to turn you back into a woman” and, “You would look good in a dress,” according to the suit. At one point, the supervisor blew a kiss at her and circled his tongue at her in a suggestive manner, EEOC alleged. The employee complained to management and called the employee hotline about the harassment. IFCO fired the female employee just a few days later in retaliation for making the complaints, EEOC charged.

As part of the consent decree, the employer did not admit liability and contended that discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation is against both its values and its written employment policies. However, IFCO will pay the former employee $7,200 in back pay with interest, $175,000 in compensatory damages, and make two $10,000 contributions to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to support, specifically, the Human Rights Campaign Workplace Equality Program.

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Takeaways for employers:

Does sexual-orientation discrimination equal sex discrimination under federal law? We’ll see. The EEOC maintains it does, “EEOC has concluded that harassment and other discrimination because of sexual orientation is prohibited sex discrimination.”

This case resolved before the court could weigh in. Lawsuits like these are just the first wave of EEOC actions against employers whom the EEOC believes has discriminated against employees based on LGBT status.

You know that scientist in the action movie who has all the right answers if only the government would just pay attention? Eric B. Meyer, Esq. gets companies HR-compliant before the action sequence. Serving clients nationwide, Eric is a Partner at FisherBroyles, LLP, which is the largest full-service, cloud-based law firm in the world, with approximately 210 attorneys in 21 offices nationwide. Eric is also a volunteer EEOC mediator, a paid private mediator, and publisher of The Employer Handbook (www.TheEmployerHandbook.com), which is pretty much the best employment law blog ever. That, and he's been quoted in the British tabloids. #Bucketlist.

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