Significant expansion of the antidiscrimination protections afforded to members of the LGBT community was accomplished in 2014 through executive action by President Barack Obama, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), and the attorney general (AG). The push for more protection of LGBT employees culminated in two lawsuits in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) challenged the layoff and termination of employees undergoing gender transition procedures. The EEOC’s litigation posture, bolstered by executive action, suggests that employers should anticipate increased enforcement activity in this unsettled area.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 has always prohibited discrimination, harassment, and retaliation “because of sex” and “on the basis of sex.” Some states have adopted statutes that broaden that concept to include not only “sex” but also “sexual orientation [and] gender identity.” Although Title VII doesn’t explicitly prohibit sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination, the EEOC has now taken the position that discrimination based on gender identity (specifically, a “change in gender”) is discrimination “based on sex.” Similar pronouncements are found in the EEOC’s “Strategic Enforcement Plan, FY 2013-2016,” issued on December 17, 2012. However, many federal courts around the country have ruled that the language of Title VII doesn’t extend to the issues encompassed by the new executive actions.