So what’s different about the 2016 lawsuits?
In the recent lawsuits, the EEOC seeks to extend its reasoning in Baldwin (which was limited to the federal employment context) to the realm of private employment. In other words, the EEOC is trying to get courts to reverse their prior decisions and agree with the agency that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination.
In EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, a case filed in the District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the EEOC claims the employer allowed a heterosexual male manager to subject a gale male employee, Dale Baxley, to a sexually hostile work environment. The lawsuit alleges that the manager used anti-gay epithets to refer to Baxley, and, upon learning that Baxley was married, made further derogatory comments about Baxley’s sex life with his husband.
In EEOC v. Pallet Companies d/b/a IFCO Systems NA, Inc., filed in the District of Maryland, the EEOC made similar allegations on behalf of a lesbian employee, Yolanda Boone. Boone alleged that her manager made frequent derogatory comments directed at her sexual orientation, including saying, “I want to turn you back into a woman,” “I want you to like men again,” and quoting biblical passages that a woman should not be with a woman.
According to both lawsuits, the employees filed internal complaints but nothing was done to correct the managers’ behavior. Baxley quit rather than endure the continued harassment and claimed constructive discharge, while Boone was fired shortly after making a complaint.
In both cases, the EEOC makes an allegation mirroring the holding in Baldwin, stating that the manager’s conduct in each case was motivated by the employee’s sex “in that sexual orientation discrimination necessarily entails treating an employee less favorably because of his sex….” Both the Boone and the Baxley cases also allege that the employees were discriminated against based on sex-stereotyping.
In a press release, the EEOC stated, “[w]ith the filing of these two suits, the EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation.” Stayed tuned, and we’ll keep you updated on how these cases progress through the courts.
In the final installment, I’ll address some things HR should be considering.