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Federal Court Rules Title VII Bans Sexual Orientation Discrimination

November 15, 2016

This is big news.  This is the type of issue that was not raised in the just concluded presidential campaign, but is the foundational type of issue that made the courts and selection of judges the main reason I made my choice between the candidates.

Pennsylvania may have gone mysteriously red in the dark of election night, but a federal judge in that state has just ruled that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. This court joins a small but growing number of federal district courts to reach this conclusion, queuing up perhaps yet another appeal that pushes this issue closer to the Supreme Court.

The tides turned with an EEOC ruling in 2015, in which the agency concluded that alleged discrimination against a gay man—because he was gay—constituted a form of sex discrimination that violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law banning employment discrimination on the basis of certain protected characteristics such as sex, race, ethnicity, and religion.  The EEOC sparked a second look at this question, decades after several courts had dismissively, and with little reasoning, concluded that the law’s prohibition of sex discrimination is not broad enough to encompass sexual orientation discrimination. The new case from a federal district court in Pennsylvania, EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, builds on a more recent trend, in which courts (and the EEOC) draw on more contemporary thinking about the nature of sexual orientation discrimination and its relationship to gender.
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