Federal Court Rules Sexual Orientation Discrimination Violates Title VII

November 17, 2016

In one of the first cases brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the issue, a U.S. district judge in Pennsylvania recently ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects workers from sexual orientation discrimination.  While Title VII bans discrimination on the basis of sex (i.e., gender), it does not explicitly mention sexual orientation, and a number of federal appeals courts have ruled Title VII does not cover sexual orientation.  The decision is a victory for the Obama EEOC, which has been fighting since 2015 to expand LGBT protections through the courts in the face of congressional inaction, and could help the agency get the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court by creating a circuit court split.  The ruling comes just a few weeks before the full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is set to reconsider the decision of a three-judge panel from the court that previously ruled sexual orientation is not covered under Title VII and that only the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress can change the law.  Similar cases are also before the Eleventh and Second Circuit Courts.  To date, no federal appeals court has ruled that Title VII covers sexual orientation.