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EEOC rules that gay workers are protected under federal law

On July 16, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued an important ruling regarding the civil rights of gay, lesbian and transgender employees in the workplace. The decision could impact the rights of workers in California and across the nation.

The case before the EEOC involved an air traffic control employee for the Federal Aviation Administration in Miami, Florida, who alleged that the agency passed him up for promotion because of his sexual orientation. The FAA dismissed his complaint by saying it was untimely, but it also contended that sexual orientation is not protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The employee appealed the decision to the EEOC, and the commission reversed the FAA's dismissal of the complaint.

In its ruling, the EEOC explained that it believes sexual orientation is indeed protected under Title VII because discrimination based on sexual orientation involves discrimination based on sex, which is expressly forbidden under federal law. It should be noted that the U.S. Supreme Court has not yet issued a ruling that backs up the EEOC's opinion on the issue. However, EEOC opinions are binding over federal agencies and tend to hold strong sway over federal courts. If enough courts adopt the agency's reasoning, the issue may end up before the high court within a few years.

California employees who believe they have been the victim of workplace discrimination, including discrimination based on sex or sexual orientation, may benefit by consulting a lawyer. A lawyer could review the complaint and recommend the best course of legal action. In some cases, it may be possible to file a civil lawsuit against an employer for fostering a hostile workplace environment.

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