WASHINGTON, July 18 (UPI) -- The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled this week that discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace is illegal under federal law.
In a 3-2 vote, the EEOC concluded that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 deems workplace prejudice on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination, and is thus prohibited. The agency's 17-page decision was released Wednesday.
"Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is premised on sex-based preferences, assumptions, expectations, stereotypes or norms," the opinion read. " 'Sexual orientation' as a concept cannot be defined or understood without reference to sex."
The decision contrasts those of other circuit courts, Washington Post observes, which do not recognize "sexual orientation" as part of illegal bases for action. The EEOC mentions that many courts "cite earlier and dated decisions without any additional analysis," and claim that Title VII doesn't cover sexual orientation without looking further.
The commission's ruling may apply to discrimination cases connected with hiring, firing, promotional decisions and working conditions. However, it does not limit federal courts who look to the findings of federal agencies when in need of interpreting laws under their jurisdiction, the New York Times notes.
"In an area of law where we're seeing rapid change, courts may well be interested in what the lead anti-discrimination agency has to say," professor Helen Norton of the University of Colorado Law School told the outlet. "Courts wrestling with this question don't have to feel that they're first. There's a government agency with expertise in anti-discrimination law that has taken this position."
Currently, just 22 states prohibit discrimination of sexual orientation in the workplace. If the persuasive ruling gains more traction and influence, it could be the catalyst that fully protects homosexual employees from job discrimination in the U.S.
"This ruling is likely to have enormous positive effects because EEOC interpretations of the Title VII are highly persuasive to the courts," says Lambda Legal's Greg Nevins in a statement. "They tend to be predictive."
"Given the clarity and logic of this opinion," he continues, "most courts are likely to stop simply referring to old, illogical rulings about the Title VII coverage. A few may disagree, but most probably will be guided by the Commission's straightforward approach."