More News:

March 02, 2016

EEOC files one of its first two sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits in Pennsylvania

Lawsuit alleges Scott Medical Health Center permitted gay employee to undergo harassment

UPDATE, March 3, 2016:

Scott Medical Health Center denied the accusations made in the discrimination lawsuit filed by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

"Scott Medical Center has a written policy against harassment, which is strictly enforced," the clinic said in a statement. "We are proud of our long history of equal opportunity for all, regardless of race, sex, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, age, or religion. We will vigorously defend ourselves against the false claims made by the EEOC."

•   •   •

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed in Pennsylvania one of its first two lawsuits claiming that discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of prohibited sex discrimination, the agency announced Monday.

One of the lawsuits accuses a western Pennsylvania health clinic of permitting a gay employee to be harassed on the basis of his sexual orientation. That suit, against Scott Medical Health Center, was filed by the EEOC's Philadelphia office in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The other lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, Baltimore Division.

"With the filing of these two suits, EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation," EEOC General Counsel David Lopez said in a statement. "While some federal courts have begun to recognize this right under Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964), it is critical that all courts do so."

In the suit against Scott Medical Health Center, the EEOC alleged that a manager repeatedly used gay slurs toward a homosexual male employee. The employee complained to the clinic director, who allegedly responded that the manager was "just doing his job" and refused to take action to prevent further harassment, according to the EEOC. The employee later quit due to the harassment.

A Scott Medical Health Center spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The EEOC, the agency charged with interpreting and enforcing Title VII, determined in a case last July that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination, which is prohibited by Title VII.

Gov. Tom Wolf called the allegations against the health clinic "disturbing," noting that Pennsylvania – unlike many other states – does not explicitly prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace and housing. He said the lawsuit demonstrates the need for the General Assembly to pass non-discrimination protection legislation. 

"For far too long, Pennsylvania has failed to protect all of our citizens from acts of discrimination in employment and housing," Wolf said in a statement. "A recent report ranked our commonwealth among the lowest group of states for these protections, which is unacceptable and counter to our place in history.  I urge the General Assembly to pass and send me the Pennsylvania Fairness Act to sign upon its return to Harrisburg later this month.”

In the Maryland lawsuit, filed against Pallet Companies, doing business as IFCO Systems, the EEOC claimed a lesbian employee was harassed by her manager, who allegedly told her "I want to turn you back into a woman" and "You would look good in a dress," among other comments. She was fired in retaliation after making the complaints, the EEOC alleged.

Jay Frye, an attorney for Pallet Companies, said the company strongly disagreed with the allegations but could comment publicly on them. He said Pallet Companies would "vigorously defend" itself, saying the company does not discriminate based on sexual orientation.

"We have no tolerance for any such discrimination, harassment or retaliation in the workplace," Frye wrote in an email. "We greatly value the diversity of the people with whom we work and the contributions they make to our business and our culture."