Tuesday, July 21, 2015

EEOC Rules That Title VII Protects Sexual Orientation

 On July 15, 2015, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") significantly advanced the rights and protections of LGBT working persons in the United States by ruling that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The decision came in response to a complaint filed by a Florida-based air traffic control specialist against the Transportation Security Administration. In its decision, the EEOC explained that “allegations of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily state a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex." However, as the Washington Post explained, the EEOC's decision conflicts with rulings of most federal courts, which have found that Title VII does not protect against sexual orientation discrimination. The EEOC found those rulings to be "dated." The EEOC's decision will apply to all federal employees’ claims filed at the EEOC, although federal courts often given deference to EEOC decisions although such decisions are not binding.

The Massachusetts employment non-discrimination statute, Chapter 151B, already protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Still, the EEOC's decision will have far-reaching implications throughout other parts of the country and in state and federal courts in Massachusetts when addressing claims under Title VII.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

MCAD finds Boston College discriminated against Chemistry professor

The Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination ("MCAD") ordered Boston College to pay $125,000 in emotional distress damages and at least 12 years of backpay after finding that the College retaliated against a tenured associate professor after the professor complained about hostile treatment by fellow faculty members related to his mental illness. Hearing Officer Betty Waxman found that after Professor William Armstrong returned from a  leave of absence for due to mental health issues,  the College and Chemistry Department members took adverse actions by "systematically isolating him from the Chemistry Department." Armstrong and the College had an agreement designed to integrate him back into the College and Department after his leave, and Waxman found that his efforts to implement this agreement constituted protected activity since the agreement itself was an accommodation to his disability. When Armstrong complained to the Faculty Grievance Committee, which Waxman found to be protected activity, the reactions of administrative and faculty members turned further hostile. As Waxman explained, “[T]he Chemistry Department, in effect, punished Complainant for seeking to enforce the terms of the reintegration agreements which constituted an accommodation to his disability. Such action, in my opinion, constitutes retaliation."

 Cecilie Gromada, an incoming First-Year student at Boston University Law School and part-time paralegal, contributed to this report.