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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission aims to protect LGBT rights in the workplace

July 29, 2015

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently voted that discrimination against people of the LGBT community equates to sexual discrimination, which is forbidden under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act

“The recent ruling clarifies that the EEOC will treat charges of discrimination based on sexual orientation as claims based on sex,” EEOC spokesperson Justine Lisser said over email, adding those who live in states without protection can file a charge with the EEOC.

Associate professor of law Michael Sant’Ambrogio said this is an argument people have been making for decades, but the EEOC ruling is important because they’re the “federal agency responsible for judiciary standards in employment.” 

Neuroscience sophomore Carter Griffin said the decision is a step forward for the LGBT community, one which will provide them greater peace of mind. 

However, Sant’Ambrogio said this decision isn’t the end of the story. 

“The question is, how successful will they be at convincing the federal courts?” Sant’Ambrogio said. The EEOC’s interpretation will be tested in court, but the cases won’t always go the same way. 

Although this ruling allows some protection, 27 states still have no legislation to protect LGBT people from employment discrimination. 

“It’s a good thing for the time being that there is protection, but there still needs to be legislation,” social relations and policy senior Sean Wolski said. 

Wolski said the EEOC extended the 1964 Civil Rights Act to cover gender orientation and gender identity in 2012, but many transgender people are still in poverty because of job discrimination. 

Wolski said discrimination based on sexual orientation happens more often than people think, and Griffin agrees it’s a relevant threat. 

Though an LGBT person can file a complaint with the EEOC if they are discriminated against, Lisser said the commission received 88,778 complaints in 2014, 1,093 of those claiming LGBT discrimination.

Neuroscience senior Zachary Ireland said his twin brother, who is part of the LGBT community, worked at a toy store where his boss, who assumed he was gay, made fun of him. 

“His boss would say he was acting like a 12-year-old girl,” Ireland said. 

This incident happened in Ireland’s home state of Texas, which, like Michigan, has no legislation to protect discrimination of an LGBT person in the workplace. 

“There is still a benefit for the LGBT community if Michigan passes laws against sexual orientation discrimination,” Sant’Ambrogio said. 

The EEOC’s decision covers employment, but Lisser said housing and other areas are not covered. 

Although sexual orientation is a sexual issue, Griffin believes it should have its own category and legislation should happen at the federal level. 

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