EEOC interprets and enforces Title VII's prohibition of sex discrimination as forbidding any employment discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. These protections apply regardless of any contrary state or local laws.
Through investigation, conciliation, and litigation of charges by individuals against private sector employers, as well as hearings and appeals for federal sector workers, the Commission has taken the position that existing sex discrimination provisions in Title VII protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) applicants and employees against employment bias. The Commission has obtained approximately $6.4 million in monetary relief for individuals, as well as numerous employer policy changes, in voluntary resolutions of LGBT discrimination charges under Title VII since data collection began in 2013. A growing number of court decisions have endorsed the Commission's interpretation of Title VII.
The information provided below highlights what you should know about EEOC's outreach and enforcement in this area.
Some examples of LGBT-related claims that EEOC views as unlawful sex discrimination include:
See How to File a Charge of Employment Discrimination for information about filing a Title VII charge of sex discrimination in employment related to gender identity or sexual orientation bias. There is a different complaint process for federal employees.
EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate in employment against a job applicant, employee, or former employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information. These federal laws also prohibit employers from retaliating against workers who oppose discriminatory employment practices - for example, by reporting incidents of sexual harassment to their supervisor or human resources department - or against those who participate in an employment discrimination proceeding - for example by filing an EEOC charge, cooperating with an EEOC investigation, or participating in an employment discrimination lawsuit.
While Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not explicitly include sexual orientation or gender identity in its list of protected bases, the Commission, consistent with Supreme Court case law holding that employment actions motivated by gender stereotyping are unlawful sex discrimination and other court decisions, interprets the statute's sex discrimination provision as prohibiting discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Over the past several years the Commission has set forth its position in several published decisions involving federal employment. These decisions explain the legal basis for concluding that LGBT-related discrimination constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII, and give examples of what would be considered unlawful. In so ruling, the Commission has not recognized any new protected characteristics under Title VII. Rather, it has applied existing Title VII precedents to sex discrimination claims raised by LGBT individuals. The Commission has reiterated these positions through recent amicus curiae briefs and litigation against private companies.
In Macy v. Dep't of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821, 2012 WL 1435995 (April 20, 2012), the Commission held that intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person's gender identity is, by definition, discrimination based on sex and therefore violates Title VII.
The Macy decision explains that allegations of gender identity/transgender discrimination necessarily involve sex discrimination. Such cases can be viewed as sex discrimination based on non-conformance with gender norms and stereotypes under the Supreme Court's 1989 decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, and based on a plain reading of the statute's "because of . . . sex" language.
Applying Macy, the Commission has also held that an employer's restrictions on a transgender woman's ability to use a common female restroom facility constitutes disparate treatment, Lusardi v. Dep't of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133395, 2015 WL 1607756 (Mar. 27, 2015), that intentional misuse of a transgender employee's new name and pronoun may constitute sex-based discrimination and/or harassment, Jameson v. U.S. Postal Service, EEOC Appeal No. 0120130992, 2013 WL 2368729 (May 21, 2013), and that an employer's failure to revise its records pursuant to changes in gender identity stated a valid Title VII sex discrimination claim, Complainant v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133123, 2014 WL 1653484 (Apr. 16, 2014).
In Baldwin v. Dep't of Transportation, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133080 (July 15, 2015), the Commission held that a claim of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily states a claim of discrimination on the basis of sex under Title VII.
The Baldwin decision explains that allegations of sexual orientation discrimination necessarily involve sex-based considerations. First, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation necessarily involves treating an employee differently because of his or her sex. For example, a lesbian employee disciplined for displaying a picture of her female spouse can allege that an employer took a different action against her based on her sex where the employer did not discipline a male employee for displaying a picture of his female spouse. Sexual orientation discrimination is also sex discrimination because it is associational discrimination on the basis of sex. That is, an employee alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is alleging that the employer took the employee's sex into account by treating him or her differently for associating with a person of the same sex. Finally, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is sex discrimination because it necessarily involves discrimination based on gender stereotypes, including employer beliefs about the person to whom the employee should be attracted.
In FY 2015, EEOC received a total of 1,412 charges that included allegations of sex discrimination related to sexual orientation and/or gender identity/transgender status. This represents an increase of approximately 28% over the total LGBT
charges filed in FY 2014 (1,100). EEOC resolved a total of 1,135 LGBT charges in FY 2015, including through voluntary agreements providing approximately $3.3 million in monetary relief for workers and achieving changes in employer policies so
that discrimination would not recur. This reflects increases of 34% in the number of resolutions over FY 2014 (847) and 51% in the amount of monetary relief over FY 2014 ($2.19 million).
See our table of LGBT-based Sex Discrimination charges filed with EEOC.
When the Commission finds reasonable cause to believe that discrimination has occurred, it seeks to resolve the matter voluntarily through informal means of conciliation, conference, and persuasion. If the Commission is unable to secure a voluntary resolution, it has authority to file suit in federal court. In several cases, the Commission has filed LGBT-related lawsuits under Title VII challenging alleged sex discrimination. Read about examples of pending and resolved EEOC litigation involving Title VII sex discrimination claims brought on behalf of LGBT individuals, as well as EEOC amicus briefs filed in suits brought by private individuals raising these issues.
In the federal sector, EEOC has implemented its priority for covering LGBT individuals in a variety of ways:
EEOC is addressing LGBT legal developments in numerous outreach and training presentations to the public. During FY 2015, field office staff conducted more than700 events and reached over 43,000 attendees where LGBT sex-discrimination issues were among the topics discussed. In the federal sector during FY 2015, there were approximately 53 presentations delivered to over 4,400 federal sector audience members. These events reached a wide variety of audiences, including employee advocacy groups, small employer groups, students and staff at colleges and universities, staff and managers at federal agencies and human resource professionals. To assist in this outreach, EEOC is distributing a brochure, Preventing Employment Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual or Transgender Employees.
The Commission has issued various technical assistance publications on LGBT issues, including:
Be aware of other laws that also may apply:
Note that the U.S. Department of Justice's position regarding Title VII's coverage of LGBT-related discrimination differs from that of the EEOC. See https://www.justice.gov/ag/page/file/1006981/download.