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The EEOC’s Landmark Sexual Orientation Discrimination Settlement

Elizabeth Newman Law Clerk at Freking Myers & Reul

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission interprets sex discrimination to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Although this position has not always found support in court, the EEOC filed two lawsuits this spring to enforce its interpretation. Jon Allison blogged about it here.

Late last month, the EEOC settled one of these landmark cases. In EEOC v. Pallet Companies d/b/a IFCO Systems, the EEOC alleged that an employee was harassed by her supervisor because of her sexual orientation and that she was fired in retaliation for complaining to her employer. The settlement agreement requires the employer to pay $182,200 in damages to the employee, as well as $20,000 to the Human Rights Campaign.

According to EEOC General Counsel David Lopez, this settlement was the first resolution of a lawsuit challenging sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII. Even though a court did not weigh in on the matter, this historic settlement could indicate that the EEOC’s interpretation is gaining ground. The EEOC received 1,181 complaints of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation last year—a number almost certain to grow. The other lawsuit filed by the EEOC asserting sexual orientation discrimination is still pending in Pennsylvania.

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