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EEOC settles a sexual orientation discrimination suit

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has settled a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit with a Maryland packaging supplies company for approximately $200,000. The settlement is the first paid by an employer over accusations it demonstrated sexual orientation bias in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

The EEOC filed a complaint against Pallet Cos., which operates under the name IFCO Systems, on behalf of a former employee who said she was harassed because she is a lesbian and fired when she complained. As part of the settlement, the company will pay $182,000 to the former employee. It has also agreed to donate $20,000 to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights organization.

Title VII does not list sexual orientation as a protected category, but the EEOC has stated that discrimination based on sexual orientation is essentially sex discrimination. On March 1, the agency filed separate lawsuits against Pallet Cos. and Scott Medical Health Center. They were the first two government lawsuits ever filed alleging sexual orientation violations under Title VII. According to LGBT advocates, the EEOC's interpretation that Title VII covers sexual orientation bias is "one of the most important legal issues" for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans. Currently, only 22 states protect employees from sexual orientation discrimination, and the EEOC's national standard provides critical worker protections.

Maryland employees have the right to a safe and inclusive work environment. They also have the right to make a discrimination complaint without fear of retaliation. Employees who have experienced sexual orientation discrimination or harassment may want to discuss their case with an attorney in order to see what recourse they may have.

Source: Bloomberg, "EEOC Settles One of Its First Sexual Orientation Lawsuits," Kevin McGowan, June 24, 2016

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