The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) ruled that existing federal protections against workplace discrimination based on sex also apply to sexual orientation.
In its opinion, following a 3-2 vote, the EEOC said " 'sexual orientation' as a concept cannot be defined or understood without reference to sex," The Washington Post reported.
The final ruling, which stems from a complaint filed in 2012 by a man who claimed he was denied a job because he is gay, constitutes the EEOC’s official interpretations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the primary statute governing employment discrimination claims against both public and private employers that will guide future EEOC enforcement of federal nondiscrimination laws.
The National Center for Lesbian Rights called Thursday’s decision historic.
“This decision, which follows an earlier EEOC ruling that federal nondiscrimination laws protect transgender people, adds to the growing consensus among federal agencies and courts that existing federal laws prohibit workplace discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter said in a statement.
But Minter said LGBT people will not have true equality in employment, housing and education until Congress enacts laws expressly protecting against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Freedom for All Americans, the organization pushing for such protections at the state and federal level, said the EEOC’s decision highlights the need for a comprehensive federal law.
“Comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people are strongly supported by Americans from all walks of life. We’ll continue working to ensure our laws at the municipal, state and federal level recognize that LGBT Americans deserve to live free from the fear of discrimination."