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Pennsylvania Federal Court Holds that Sexual Orientation is Protected Under Title VII

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not expressly list sexual orientation as a protected classification.  Last year, however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held that sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination pursuant to Title VII.  The EEOC subsequently filed multiple lawsuits on behalf of aggrieved employees alleging claims of sexual orientation discrimination. 

Prior to the EEOC’s decision in 2015, federal courts in Pennsylvania consistently rejected claims of sexual orientation discrimination pursuant to Title VII on the grounds that Congress failed to specifically address this issue in the statute.  In light of the EEOC’s position, labor and employment attorneys have anxiously been awaiting guidance from the federal courts in Pennsylvania on this issue.  As of late last week, that guidance appears to have come.

On November 4, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania  became the first federal court in Pennsylvania to hold that sexual orientation is protected under Title VII.  According to the court in EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C., (W.D. Pa., Civ. No. 2:16-cv-00225-CB, filed March 1, 2016), “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is, at its very core, sex stereotyping plain and simple; there is no line separating the two.”  The court further explained:  “That someone can be subjected to a barrage of insults, humiliation, hostility and/or changes to the terms and conditions of their employment, based upon nothing more than the aggressor’s view of what it means to be a man or a woman, is exactly the evil Title VII was designed to eradicate.”

In light of this historic decision, Pennsylvania employers must be prepared to recognize sexual orientation as a protected classification.  This may require employers to make changes to a number of their employment policies, including:  Equal Employment Opportunity; Harassment; Disciplinary Action; E-mail Communications; and Internet Use.

For more information regarding sexual orientation discrimination, employment policies, employee handbooks, and/or any other labor and employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact a member of our Labor and Employment Department.