The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has struck a noteworthy win for its anti-discrimination efforts in the workplace on behalf of gay and transgender individuals.
In a case that was initially filed with U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania in March 2016, a federal judge directed a Pittsburgh-area medical clinic to pay the statutory maximum fine and back pay to a gay former employee who was the subject of harassment and discriminatory treatment based on his sexual orientation.
The importance of the November 2017 ruling was not that Scott Medical Health Center had to pay the maximum fine of $50,000 and $5,500 in back pay to the employee. It was that it extended the protection against workplace discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include harassment of gay and transgender employees.
In addition to the fines, the court also mandated that the company must provide the EEOC with a written report with any complaint or allegation of sexual harassment made by any employee for the next five years. The court found that the company intentionally violated Title VII by subjecting the employee “to a hostile work environment because of his sex and constructively discharging him as a result of its refusal to take action to stop the harassment and correct its work environment.”
It was an epic fail on the part of the employer, a small business with no more than 100 employees. The company already had a policy in place that said harassment because of sexual orientation was unlawful. However, that’s as far as it went. There was no training provided to management or employees. The employee defendant in the case was not allowed to read or receive a copy of the policy, another huge faux pas on the part of the employer.
In awarding the maximum penalty allowed by law, the court both recognized the failure of the company to train its management properly, and that the impact of the harassment of the employee led to considerable emotional distress, “including depression, anxiety, social isolation, changes to his sleeping patterns, and significant weight gain.”
Based on this ruling, employers may want to review their HR policies to see what type of anti-discrimination language they contain and to determine if training of managers and employees is appropriate to ensure that they are able to implement the company’s policies.
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