EEOC Files First-Ever Sexual Orientation Discrimination Lawsuits

"With the filing of these two suits, EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation."


In a historic move, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed its first two lawsuits for discrimination based on an employee's sexual orientation.

In most states, it is still legal for employers to fire workers based on their sexual orientation or gender identity; according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBT rights advocacy group, only 19 states and D.C. currently prohibit both of these discriminations. Because there are no federal protections for LGBT employees, the EEOC has called the cases "groundbreaking."

Related Story: You Can Still Be Fired for Being Gay in Most States

The cases are on behalf of workers in Maryland and Pennsylvania who say they faced discrimination due to their sexual orientation at their workplaces. The Maryland lawsuit was filed on behalf of Yolanda Boone, who began working at Pallet Companies in Baltimore in September 2013. According to the lawsuit, Boone's coworkers knew she identifies as a lesbian. Several months after Boone was hired her manager, Charles Lowry, asked her to start working nightshift hours, which she agreed to.

Harassment began when Boone started working the nightshift. Lowry allegedly made comments including, "I want to turn you back into a woman," "I want you to like men again," "You would look good in a dress," "Are you a girl or a man?" and "You don't have any breasts." He would also quote biblical passages and told Boone that a woman should be with a man.

Boone complained to Anthony Powell, her supervisor, but nothing changed and the harassment continued. Eventually Boone went to human resources with her complaints, which resulted in the company asking Boone to resign. When she refused, she was fired.

The company denied the allegations.

"We strongly disagree with the allegations made in the lawsuit," Jay Frye, regional general counsel for Brambles Limited (the Australian parent company of Pallet Companies), said. "While we cannot comment publicly on this matter, we will vigorously defend against this litigation."

In Pennsylvania a lawsuit was filed on behalf of Dale Baxley, who worked as a telemarketer at the Scott Medical Health Center located in Pittsburgh. Baxley alleged that his manager, Robert McClendon, verbally harassed him and called him homophobic slurs on numerous occasions. When McClendon learned that Baxley had a partner he allegedly said, "I always wondered how you f*** have sex" and "Who's the butch and who is the b****?"

Baxley reported the harassment to McClendon's boss, but no action was taken. Baxley ultimately had no choice but to leave the company. According to the lawsuit, "Baxley resigned in response to the Defendant's creation of, and refusal to discontinue, a sexually hostile work environment. Defendant knowingly created and permitted working conditions that Baxley reasonably viewed as intolerable and that caused him to resign."

Federally, employees are not protected from discrimination based on their sexual orientation. But the EEOC is trying to ensure that those who suffer discrimination still see justice.

"With the filing of these two suits, EEOC is continuing to solidify its commitment to ensuring that individuals are not discriminated against in workplaces because of their sexual orientation," said David Lopez, general counsel for the EEOC, in a statement. "While some federal courts have begun to recognize this right under Title VII, it is critical that all courts do so."

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 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 current 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."

Related Story: New Lawsuit Seeks to end LGBT Discrimination at Work             

The EEOC made headlines last year in the case of David Baldwin, who alleged he was discriminated against during his employment with the Federal Aviation Administration. The EEOC found that discrimination against sex, as stated in Title VII, also applies to discrimination based on sexual orientation in federal workplaces; the ruling states, "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."

This ruling opened the door for more sexual orientation discrimination lawsuits, which the EEOC has been accepting since 2013. And while it has not brought up any federal charges until now, the EEOC has not only attained an estimated $6.5 million over the past three years in monetary relief for workers who filed discrimination complaints but also successfully got hundreds of employers around the country to change their workplace policies to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation.

According to EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, while federal rulings do not always correspond with the EEOC, the EEOC has often "been ahead of the courts" in terms of defining discrimination. She also said that, ultimately, courts "often defer" to what the EEOC determines constitutes as discrimination. If this were to happen with these two federal lawsuits, it would be a significant step in the right direction for LGBT rights.

Lowell Kuvin, Baldwin's attorney, said that Baldwin's case — and therefore similar ones — could potentially be even bigger than the marriage equality ruling in June.

"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," Kuvin said at the time.

GLAAD Calls for LGBT Characters in 20 percent of Movies by 2021

Box office hits like "Wonder Woman" and "Black Panther" have smashed old Hollywood notions that movies that champion women and people of color do not have global appeal, GLAAD said, and now LGBT people must be in the conversation as well.

James Ivory wears a shirt depicting actor Timothee Chalamet as he holds his Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for "Call Me My Your Name" during the 90th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Calif. / REUTERS

(Reuters) — Romance "Call Me By Your Name" may have won a screenplay Oscar, and Disney's family-friendly "Beauty and the Beast" had a gay character, but movies from Hollywood's major studios last year had the lowest percentage of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual characters since 2012, according to a report released on Tuesday.

Read More Show Less

Jury Awards $28M to Haitian-American Nurse Who Stood Up for Coworker

Brigham and Women's Hospital retaliated against a nurse for defending a coworker amid alleged verbal abuse.

Gessy Toussaint — who shares the name of the best-known leader of the Haitian Revolution, Toussaint L'Ouverture — also believes in fighting against the odds and winning.

A Suffolk Superior Court jury ruled on Wednesday that Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Mass., retaliated against Toussaint, a Haitian-American nurse who stood up for a colleague, and has awarded her $28 million. Deliberation took more than three days.

Read More Show Less

Lesbian Latina Sets Out to Make History and Oust Anti-LGBT Texas Gov.

Lupe Valdez, former sheriff of Dallas County, is the first openly gay and Latina to win a major party nomination for governor in Texas.


A new sheriff may soon be in town in Texas, and she's already making history.

Read More Show Less

Twenty-one white people (including seven male board members and CEO Steve Simon) of a total of 22 people in the World Tennis Association's (WTA) management made the call to boot Serena Williams from seeding for the French Open for having a baby.

Read More Show Less

Maxine Waters Attacked in Congress as she Sought to Protect People from Predators in the Auto Loan Industry

Racist smears and whitesplaining from "men." What's behind the vitriol? If racism is ignored by victims, does it go away?

On Friday, Reps. Mike Kelly and Maxine Waters debated over the House voting to roll back a Consumer Financial Protections Bureau rule meant to limit discrimination in distributing auto loans. Studies have shown Blacks and Latinos have systemically been charged a higher markup on auto loans than white borrowers, and class action lawsuits were brought against auto lenders as a result. Waters advocated for another look at how this vote would impact auto loan practices with people of color. But those on the right insist talk of discrimination is steering away from the country being unified.

Read More Show Less

Ben Carson's HUD to Scrub Anti-Discrimination Language from Mission Statement

As the Trump administration seeks to cut HUD's funding, the agency is aligning its mission with "the secretary's priorities."

A year after beginning his position of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) secretary, Ben Carson has decided that it's time to update the agency's mission statement and remove words and phrases like "inclusion" and "free from discrimination."

Read More Show Less

Gay Basher Brownback Wins Confirmation as Ambassador for International Religious Freedom

Tireless bedroom busybody goes international as the champion of religion from the five-children-from-three-women-porn-star-payoff administration.


Sam Brownback, the unpopular Republican governor of Kansas and an enemy of LGBT rights, will be leaving his post to take on a role as international religious freedom ambassador for President Donald Trump's administration.

Read More Show Less