EEOC and Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers

Document created by 1002067 on Nov 30, 2014Last modified by 1002067 on Mar 10, 2017
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The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) reports that recent events, including the filing of two EEOC lawsuits on behalf of transgender employees, have triggered increased interest about protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) individuals under federal employment discrimination laws. 


The EEOC is responsible for enforcing federal laws that make it illegal to discriminate against a job applicant or an employee because of the person's race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, 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 file EEOC charges or cooperate with an EEOC investigation.  Also, according to the EEOC, where these federal laws apply, they protect all workers, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.


Employers often have questions about whether discrimination related to LGBT status is prohibited under the laws the EEOC enforces. The Commission's Strategic Enforcement Plan (SEP), adopted by a bipartisan vote in December of 2012, lists "coverage of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals under Title VII's sex discrimination provisions, as they may apply" as an enforcement priority for FY 2013-2016. The EEOC states that this enforcement priority is consistent with positions it has taken in recent years regarding the intersection of LGBT-related discrimination and Title VII's prohibition on sex discrimination.


Consistent with this position, the EEOC has instructed its investigators and attorneys that discrimination against an individual because that person is transgender is a violation of Title VII's prohibition of sex discrimination in employment. Therefore, the EEOC's district, field, and area offices have been instructed to take and investigate (where appropriate) charges from individuals who believe they have been discriminated against because of transgender status (or because of gender identity or a gender transition).


In addition, investigators and attorneys were instructed that lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals also may bring valid Title VII sex discrimination claims, and that the EEOC should accept charges alleging sexual-orientation-related discrimination.  These allegations might include, for example, claims of sexual harassment or other kinds of sex discrimination, such as adverse actions taken because of the person's failure to conform to sex stereotypes.


In January 2013, the EEOC began tracking information on charges filed alleging discrimination related to gender identity and/or sexual orientation.  In the final three quarters of FY 2013 (January through September), EEOC received 667 charges raising allegations of sex discrimination related to sexual orientation and 161 charges alleging sex discrimination based on gender identity/transgender status. In the first three quarters of FY 2014, the EEOC had received 663 charges alleging sex discrimination related to sexual orientation and 140 charges alleging sex discrimination on the basis of gender identity/transgender status.


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