A new ruling by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission may not be binding, but it helps pave the way for major change.
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Less than a month ago, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. While many people in the gay community celebrated, others worried about all the work remaining—and how long it would take to get there. So it came as a surprise to many that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) came out with a groundbreaking new ruling, arguing that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal under federal law.
The Commission’s decision is powerful, but sadly, non-binding for federal courts. Still, many courts refer to the Commission when making their ruling, and their decision will have impact. As Helen Norton, professor at University of Colorado Law School, told The New York Times: “In an area of law where we’re seeing rapid change, courts may well be interested in what the leading anti-discrimination agency has to say.” It’s easier for the courts to identify discrimination when the words, and legal precedent, are in place.
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Prior to the ruling, complainants could argue that they had been discriminated against for their gender nonconformity, not their sexuality. For example, a lesbian could argue that she was discriminated against for appearing insufficiently feminine. But she couldn’t argue that she had been discriminated against because of her sexuality—her gender expression mattered, not her sexual preference. For many queer people who have more “traditional” forms of gender expression, it remained impossibly hard to build a case.
While many states have embraced anti-discrimination laws, some have not, and others are constantly in danger of being dismantled. The EEOC’s decision may be non-binding, but it’s still a big and beautiful shift.
(Via: The New York Times)