Judge allows workplace anti-gay discrimination case to proceed

Workers in California and throughout the country with same-sex partners may enjoy additional protection based on a federal judge’s ruling in a discrimination case. The case dealt with an employee in the medical field who said that another employee who was his superior had harassed him for being gay. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission argued that being harassed several times per week constituted creating a hostile work environment.

In denying the defendant’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, the Pennsylvania district court judge ruled that the case could proceed because the behavior violated the protections of Title VII regarding sex discrimination. However, the judge also noted in a footnote that a correspondence could be found in the prohibition against racial discrimination as well. Since racial discrimination prevents discriminating against a person on the basis of who their partner is, a similar argument could be made that harassing a gay person also discriminates against a person based on their choice of partner.

In prior cases, the EEOC’s argument has been that discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited because it involves stereotyping a person based on their sex. The Supreme Court ruled in a 1989 case that a female employee could not be required to look more feminine. The judge in this case argued that under that same ruling, a person could not be forced to fit into a certain gendered expectation regarding sexual attraction.

People who have been the victim of workplace harassment may worry that they are putting their job in danger if they confront the behavior, or they might not know their rights. They may want to consult an attorney to discuss how best to proceed. If following the guidelines set forth in the company manual proves to be fruitless, then the next step might be to file a claim with the EEOC.

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