Title VII Claims for Workplace Discrimination

Attorneys File Title VII Claims to Recover Damages for Victims of Workplace Discrimination

Attorneys who engage in the practice of employment law, like the ones at Leeds Brown, know that New York State and New York City governments value the workforce of this state. Both jurisdictions have enacted some of the most comprehensive legislation protecting many private and public employees from workplace discrimination. New York legislation, unlike laws in various other states, contains specific language prohibiting employment discrimination against individuals based on their gender identity and sexual orientation. Federal law has not yet caught up to New York law but recent interpretations of the applicable United States statutes have provided some protections to the LGBT community.

Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 which prohibits employment discrimination does not provide specific protection based on these characteristics. Title VII prohibits discrimination because of features like sex, color, race, and religion. It makes no mention of gender identity or sexual orientation. However, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency overseeing the enforcement of Title VII, takes the position that Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions include gender identity and sexual orientation. The EEOC states, “The Commission has taken the position that existing sex discrimination provisions in Title VII protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) applicants and employees against employment bias.”

What does this mean? It means that under federal law, it may be unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an individual because of his or her sexual orientation or gender identity. It also means that an employee who experiences such workplace discrimination may file a complaint with the EEOC. In 2015 the EEOC received over 1,400 complaints that included allegations of sex discrimination involving sexual orientation, transgender status, and/or gender identity. The agency received almost 30% more complaints than in 2014. The complaints have resulted in, among other things, the collection of millions of dollars in monetary relief for employees as well as company policy changes.

Employment lawyers at Leeds Brown can provide guidance if you are facing workplace discrimination or harassment because of a protected characteristic. If you have experienced harassment or discrimination during any part of the employment process including application, interview, compensation, assignment or termination, contact our office for help. Our dedicated professionals have been protecting workers in the New York City metropolitan area for decades. We strive to ensure that our clients receive the fair and equal treatment the laws require as well as any other remedies to which they may be entitled.

Discrimination Occurs at Every Stage of the Employment Process

As is true with all protected classes of individuals, employment discrimination based on sex, including sexual and gender identity can occur at any point during the employment process. Included are activities before employment such as tests, applications, interviews and hiring to every aspect of the job such as work assignments, workspace, compensation, promotion, benefits, and training. Harassment can also occur at any stage and may involve a supervisor or co-workers.

Some examples of claims that might be sex discrimination are:

  • Failure to hire an applicant because he is a transgender man or because she is a transgender woman
  • Firing a worker because the individual plans to make a gender transition or is undergoing a gender transition
  • Telling an employment agency you only want to hire “manly men” for the job
  • Asking an applicant if he or she is male or female because you can’t tell
  • Refusing to grant an employee equal access to a shared restroom corresponding to the individual’s gender identity
  • Failing to hire an applicant because he or she is gay or straight
  • Harassing a worker because of the person’s sexual orientation by using derogatory comments, threats, inappropriate jokes, slurs and other harassing behavior
  • Failing to use the proper pronoun associated with a person’s gender identity after being asked to do so.
  • Paying someone less money because of his or her sexual orientation or transgender status
  • Preventing a qualified transgender employee from working out in the open because the individual’s gender identity might make customers uncomfortable
  • Denying health care benefits for a same-sex spouse while providing them for a spouse of the opposite sex.

The EEOC and Case Law May Prohibit Workplace Discrimination Because of Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation

Although neither the Commission nor the language of the law has explicitly recognized gender identity and sexual orientation as new protected classes under Title VII, they EEOC has applied existing agency and court precedents to sex discrimination claims made by LGBT individuals.

For example, in 2012, the Commission held that intentional discrimination against an individual because of the person’s gender identity is, by definition, discrimination based on sex. Therefore, such discrimination may be unlawful under Title VII. The EEOC supported this decision with a court case from 1989 which ruled that discrimination based on non-conformity with gender norms and stereotypes was illegal sex discrimination.

Continuing to use these precedents, the EEOC ruled that intentional refusal to allow a transgender female to use the common women’s restroom was unlawful sex discrimination as was intentional the misuse of a transgender employee’s new name and gender pronoun.

In 2015, the Commission also held that discriminating against a worker because of sexual orientation necessarily states a claim of sex discrimination under Title VII because such behavior takes into account the individual’s sex and conformity to gender stereotypes.

Some other examples of actual cases resolved by the EEOC

  • In a 2014 case, the EEOC alleged that an employer discriminated against an employee by firing her after she began transitioning from male to female and informed the company that she was transgender. Her work up until the time they fired her was satisfactory. The settlement, in this case, included an award of $150,000 for the employee.
  • In a 2016 matter, the victim of discrimination was a lesbian who experienced harassment from co-workers and her supervisor. The harassment centered on her sexual orientation and non-conformity with gender norms. After she had complained to management, the company retaliated against her by terminating her employment. Under the settlement agreement, the employer had to pay the employee approximately $180,000.
  • In another 2016 case, an employer agreed to pay the employee $115,000 in damages as a result of discrimination and harassment based on her transgender status. The company refused to let her use the women’s restroom, and her supervisor and coworkers intentionally misused pronouns and used hurtful slurs when referring to her.

Contact Employment Law Attorneys and Protect Your Civil Rights

Lawyers at Leeds Brown, representing employees in and around Long Island and New York City understand that workers have rights to equal and fair treatment. Title VII ensures that when employees face discrimination, harassment or retaliation based on sexual orientation or gender identity, they have recourse under the language that makes sex discrimination unlawful. New York City and State have laws that specifically protect these classifications of workers from employment discrimination.

As laws evolve to protect more and more workers, you should know what your rights are if you experience discrimination in the workplace. Contacting experienced attorneys who know how to file claims with the EEOC or appropriate state agency can help you get started on the right foot. You may be entitled to monetary damages or other remedies such as reinstatement to your job.

Contact Leeds Brown for a free case evaluation. You can reach our dedicated lawyers who help combat workplace discrimination by calling 1-800-585-4658.


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