As the latest news cycle reminds us, sexual harassment continues to plague American workplaces. In addition to affecting leadership confidence, employee morale, and public opinion, claims of sexual harassment carry with them another negative: Litigating sexual harassment claims is expensive.
Earlier this year, I predicted the issue of sexual-orientation discrimination was headed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. On September 7, 2017, the issue did, in fact, reach the Supreme Court when the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund filed a petition for a writ of certiorari on behalf of Jameka Evans. Ms. Evans had sued her employer for allegedly firing her for being a lesbian.
Odd, bizarre, contradictory, based on gossamer-thin distinctions—all these words have been used to describe the state of the law about employment discrimination based on sexual orientation.
On June 28, 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it had settled one of its first lawsuits alleging sexual orientation discrimination. The settlement—in the form of a consent decree—requires Pallet Companies, doing business as IFCO Systems (IFCO), to pay $202,200 in addition to a number of nonmonetary requirements. This landmark decree comes less than a year after the EEOC first concluded that discrimination on the basis of an employee’s sexual orientation amounted to sex discrimination.
June is upon us, and with June comes controversial U.S. Supreme Court decisions. This year, that will include a decision on same-sex marriage. At this time of year, it’s always good to prepare your managers for dealing with coffee-break conversations about these controversial employment-related topics. If they become heated, such conversations can cause hurt feelings. Although those hurt feelings are no big deal from an employment perspective, hostile-work-environment allegations can start with a few words about the latest decision. Employers should be careful to monitor such discussions—especially the ones having to do with rights of same-sex couples or transgender employees.