The EEOC filed two lawsuits earlier in 2016 alleging that employers discriminated against employees based on their sexual orientation. One of those lawsuits, filed against Pallet Companies/IFCO Systems, recently settled for just over $200,000. The employer must pay substantial damages to its former employee, Yolanda Boone, a forklift operator, who alleged she was fired after complaining that her supervisor made comments regarding her sexual orientation and appearance. The EEOC alleged in its lawsuit that Boone’s supervisor made comments including “I want to turn you back into a woman” and “You would look good in a dress.”
Also, as part of the settlement, Pallet Companies/IFCO System must develop an employee training program that includes a module on LGBT workplace issues. Pallet Companies also is required to post workplace notices informing employees that Title VII prohibits sex discrimination and retaliation and that the company will conduct its hiring and employment practices without regard to an individual's sexual orientation. Finally, the employer must distribute to all employees copies of its equal employment opportunity policy, and wallet cards containing the toll-free phone number and web address of a company hotline for discrimination complaints. This was a landmark case for this area of discrimination law.
The other lawsuit based on sexual orientation has not been resolved yet, but this settlement may make the EEOC as well as employees bolder in pursuing such “sex discrimination” claims against employers.
In another EEOC case out of Florida last year, Lakeland Eye Clinic, settled one of the first two lawsuits ever filed by the EEOC alleging sex discrimination against a transgender individual. The EEOC's lawsuit charged that Lakeland Eye Clinic discriminated based on sex by firing its Director of Hearing Services after she began to present as a woman and informed the defendant that she was transgender, despite the fact that the employee had performed her duties satisfactorily throughout her employment. Lakeland Eye Clinic agreed to pay $150,000 to the employee, to implement a new gender discrimination policy, and to provide training to its management and employees regarding transgender/gender stereotype discrimination.
Advice To Employers
Given these developments, employers should consider:
- Revising their EEO, non-discrimination, and anti-harassment policies if they do not expressly prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation and transgender status.
- Implementing EEO and harassment training programs that incorporate the topic of sexual orientation and transgender discrimination.
- Ensuring that supervisors and other employees know that sexual orientation and transgender discrimination is prohibited under Title VII and act accordingly.