July 17, 2015
While 21 states ban discrimination at work based on sexual and/or gender orientation, it's still legal in most of the country to fire someone because they are gay.
A new ruling from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, however, states that LGBT discrimination is the same as sex discrimination, and so is already illegal under existing laws.
The logic behind the ruling is that firing a female worker because she dates women means that you are treating her differently then a man who dates women. Hence, it is gender discrimination, which is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"Sexual orientation is inseparable from and inescapably linked to sex," the commission announced on Thursday.
Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts actually brought up similar reasoning in April in the midst of arguments of same-sex marriage, although he ultimately dissented in that case.
"If Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can't. And the difference is based upon their different sex," he noted.
Another reason that EEOC links LGBT and sex discrimination: both are based on gender stereotypes. The idea that LGBT people aren't "real" men or "real" women comes from notions about traditional gender norms.
As Buzzfeed reports, the ruling was not unanimously approved: two out of the five commissioners dissented.
Right now, the decision only applies to federal employees. However, Mark Stern pointed out on Slate, the EEOC's decisions have influence in the courts. This ruling could encourage LGBT workers to start new lawsuits based on this legal reasoning and, ultimately, this issue may work its way up to the Supreme Court for a definitive answer.