July 17, 2015
EEOC Ruling Demonstrates Urgent Need for Florida Non-Discrimination Law
In a major step forward for LGBT civil rights, a federal agency has declared that workplace discrimination against gay and lesbian employees is unlawful because it violates existing federal law.
In a case from Miami, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled Thursday that sexual orientation is equivalent to gender and therefore protected under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
LGBT advocates celebrated the ruling but cautioned that it is not binding in federal court and also does not cover two other common forms of discrimination, in housing and public accommodations.
“The EEOC has made clear that discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace should never be tolerated. Unfortunately, state and federal law still lack these critical protections,” said Stratton Pollitzer, deputy director of Equality Florida.
“In order to provide clarity to both employers and employees, we need a Florida law that explicitly bans discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity,” Pollitzer said.
“We are calling on the Legislature and the governor to approve the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, to make it illegal in our state to discriminate against an employee, a tenant or a customer because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
Florida Competes, a bipartisan coalition of major Florida businesses, urged the same.
“It’s pretty incredible to see the EEOC affirm a core Florida value: That no hardworking person should be fired from their job simply because of who they are,” the group said in an email to its members.
“This ruling undoubtedly gives us momentum, but it’s not the end game. Today, just as it was yesterday, it’s perfectly legal to deny a house or refuse service in a restaurant to gay and transgender Floridians.”
Equality Florida has pushed the Florida Competitive Workforce Act for several years. But despite business and popular support -- 73 percent of Floridians say they favor such a law, according to a 2014 report from the Bob Graham Center for Public Research at the University of Florida -- it has yet to receive a full legislative hearing.
In the long struggle toward full LGBT equality, Thursday’s ruling is an important milestone, Pollitzer said.
“The vast majority of Americans believe that LGBT people should not be discriminated against. This is a significant step towards turning that value into law.”