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.