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More and more plaintiffs are testing the judicial waters by
bringing claims for discrimination based on sexual orientation under Title VII.
Just recently, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) celebrated
its first success in a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit.
In EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, P.C., 217
F.Supp.3d 834 (W.D. Penn. 2016), the EEOC sued Scott Medical Health Center (“Scott”)
on behalf of Dale Massaro, a telemarketing employee who suffered harassment
from his supervisor based on his sexual orientation. Scott was aware of the behavior, but failed to
take steps to end it. The Court found in favor of the EEOC and Massaro and
awarded the statutory maximum in compensatory and punitive damages.
The Court found that while Scott had a policy in place
discouraging harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, Scott failed to
educate its employees and supervisors on the policy or enforce it. The Court also
determined Scott’s upper management willfully disregarded Massaro’s complaints by
failing to take action once it knew of the behavior.
The Circuits are currently split as to whether Title VII
encompasses a claim for discrimination based upon sexual orientation alone.
Just recently, the Supreme Court denied certiorari in Evans v. Georgia
Regional Hospital, 850 F.3d 1248 (11th Cir. 2017), where a Circuit panel of
judges held that Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination “because of sex”
does not encompass discrimination based on sexual orientation, while both the
Second and Seventh Circuits have held contrarily. Regardless, the Scott decision
emphasizes the importance of employers ensuring not only that they have
appropriate written policies in place, but also that those policies are clearly
communicated and followed.