The state of California has laws that protect employees from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, but it is only one of 22 jurisdictions that do so. On April 4, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, this is a type of sex discrimination and is prohibited.
It is the first time that a full federal appellate court has recognized discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as falling under Title VII although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long taken this position. Only a week earlier, another court ruled that a gay employee in Georgia was not protected from workplace discrimination.
In the case that led to the April 4 ruling, a woman argued that she was not given a full-time position at her place of employment because she was a lesbian. Both a district court and a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit ruled that she was not part of a protected class. The 8 to 3 ruling by the entire panel overturned these decisions, however.
In its opinion, the court relied on previous Supreme Court rulings to reach its conclusion and wrote that it is impossible to separate discrimination based on sexual orientation from sex discrimination. It is likely that a similar case will eventually reach the Supreme Court.
Ensuring that one is a member of a protected class may be one of the first steps in dealing with harassment and discrimination at work. Race, religion, and natural origin are all among the classes that receive federal protection from discrimination and harassment, and California offers additional protection to other classes. Another consideration is how to document the harassment. People might want to discuss these issues with an attorney so that they understand their rights even if they plan to try to resolve the issue internally.