Following the historic legalization of marriage equality this past summer, another pivotal case regarding LGBT rights is now being brought to trial. Currently only 19 states and D.C. have protections in place based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and three states only protect based on sexual orientation. However, according to this suit, discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation is already illegal.
In 2012, 57-year-old David Baldwin, who is gay, filed a complaint against his former employer, the Federal Aviation Administration, with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Baldwin cited numerous instances of discrimination due to his sexual orientation. He stated he was passed up for promotions based on his sexual orientation and recounted multiple times employees made discriminatory comments to Baldwin regarding his orientation.
In his complaint, Baldwin noted remarks made by Mark Scott, his former direct supervisor. Baldwin once mentioned at work that he and his partner went to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and was told by Scott, “We don’t need to hear about that gay stuff.” Scott also told Baldwin on numerous occasions that he was “a distraction in the radar room” for discussing his partner. When Baldwin said that his partner made his lunch for him, Scott called the remark “inappropriate” and ordered Baldwin to “get out of the radar room with that kind of talk.”
Baldwin also alleged that his supervisors threatened to take disciplinary action against him if he did not show up to work even though he felt sick. But when Baldwin did as he was told and went in, he was once again threatened with disciplinary action because he came to work “unfit for duty.”
According to the complaint, the FAA’s discrimination was illegal based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII states:
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex or national origin; or
(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.
This past July, the EEOC ruled in Baldwin’s favor and said discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal in federal workplaces because it falls under sex discrimination in Title VII. According to the ruling:
Indeed, we conclude that sexual orientation is inherently a “sex-based consideration,” and an allegation of discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is premised on sex-based preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes, or norms. “Sexual orientation” as a concept cannot be defined or understood without reference to sex.
Baldwin tried to settle the dispute with the FAA without legal activity but received no response from his former employer when he reached out. Now Baldwin is moving his complaint forward to federal court.
The lawsuit names Anthony Foxx, Secretary of the United States Department of Transportation, and Michael Hurta, Administrator of the FSS, as defendants.
Baldwin wants to move forward with this case because, as noted by Lowell Kuvin, Baldwin’s attorney, the EEOC’s ruling only applies to federal employees.
“While the decision by the EEOC in Baldwin v. Foxx was a giant step forward for extinguishing sexual orientation discrimination by allowing federal employees to pursue sexual orientation claim[s] under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title VII, it was just a small step forward for nongovernment employees,” Baldwin’s lawyer, Lowell Kuvin, said in an interview with BuzzFeed. “The next logical step for Mr. Baldwin, who would like to see the protection of Title VII extended to nongovernment employees alleging sexual orientation discrimination, was to bring the issue to the federal courts.”
Different courts may have different interpretations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The Supreme Court could ultimately make the definitive ruling.
Kuvin also explained why this could be even more substantial than the case for marriage equality: “Mr. Baldwin’s case has the ability to affect more people than the [Supreme] Court’s Obergefell [marriage] case because there are more gay men and women who have jobs than same sex couples who want to get married.”
Baldwin hopes that his efforts will help others who face the same discrimination he did. “I am confident that this decision will be the deciding factor in saving countless jobs,” he said to The Washington Blade after the EEOC’s decision in July. “That anyone would lose their job simply because of whom they are is a travesty. The LGBT community was never looking for ANY special consideration. We simply want the exact same protections as every other American citizen under already existing laws. Nothing more, nothing less.”