A federal judge has ruled that discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of illegal gender stereotyping, rejecting a Pennsylvania medical clinic’s bid to dismiss one of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s first lawsuits on behalf of a gay worker.
U.S. District Judge Cathy Bissoon in Pittsburgh on Friday said shifting social norms, including the legalization of gay marriage nationwide, had made it increasingly difficult to justify depriving gay employees of the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The employer, Scott Medical Health Center, argued that Dale Baxley’s case, taken up by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, should be thrown out because sexual orientation isn’t protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
However, Bissoon wrote in her opinion that discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation and sexual stereotyping quintessentially implicates sex, and is therefore protected by civil rights law.
“There is no more obvious form of sex stereotyping than making a determination that a person should conform to heterosexuality,” Bissoon said. “As the EEOC states, ‘[d]iscriminating against a person because of the sex of that person’s romantic partner necessarily involves stereotypes about ‘proper’ roles in sexual relationships—that men are and should only be sexually attracted to women, not men.'”
Bissoon called such discrimination “evil” and added, “discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is, at its very core, sex stereotyping plain and simple; there is no line separating the two.”
Baxley claimed he was subject to homophobic slurs from his boss several times a week. Baxley’s boss allegedly called him a “‘fucking faggot,'” “‘queer,'” and upon learning that Baxley had a partner, told him that he didn’t understand how homosexual intercourse worked.
In March, the EEOC took up the case on Baxley’s behalf after investigating discrimination claims from five of Baxley’s female co-workers.
Bissoon pointed to the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling to illustrate the broadening definition of discrimination.
“That someone can be subjected to a barrage of insults, humiliation, hostility and/or changes to the terms and conditions of their employment, based upon nothing more than the aggressor’s view of what it means to be a man or a woman, is exactly the evil Title VII was designed to eradicate,” she added.
Scott Medical’s attorney, Charles Saul of Margolis Edelstein, said he was ”exploring the possibility of special appeal.”