On March 1, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a press release announcing that it had filed its first two sexual orientation discrimination claims against private sector employers. Each of these lawsuits allege violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). The EEOC’s theory is that since Title VII prohibits discrimination and retaliation because of an individual’s sex – harassment or retaliation because of an individual’s sexual orientation is also unlawful.

In EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C., the EEOC alleges that a homosexual male employee was subject to a sexually hostile work environment under Title VII based on offensive phrases and comments about his sexuality and sexual behavior by his telemarketing manager. Allegedly, the comments continued even after the employee filed an internal complaint.

In EEOC v. Pallet Companies d/b/a IFCO Systems NA, the EEOC alleges that a homosexual female employee was harassed by her night shift supervisor because of her sexual orientation and accordingly, was forced to endure various insults about her sexual orientation and appearance. The EEOC alleges that the employee complained to management and the employer allegedly retaliated by firing her.

Employers should note that the filing of these lawsuits alone will likely trigger increased litigation in this area. In fiscal year 2015, the EEOC received 1,412 charges alleging sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination. Accordingly, prudent employers should:

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