An hour with EEOC Commissioner Charlotte A. Burrows, Part 2 – LGBT Concerns

EEOC Commissioner Burrows discussed the successful case of transgender woman Tamara Lusardi vs the US Army (photo from

EEOC Commissioner Burrows discussed the successful case of transgender woman Tamara Lusardi vs the US Army (photo from

NOTE: See link to an important LGBT resource in the last paragraph!

Last week I was invited to attend a “Meet and Greet” with one of the USA’s five EEOC (Employment Equal Opportunity Commission) Commissioners, Charlotte A. Burrows, in the EEOC’s downtown Raleigh office. I received the invite since I am an officer of the Raleigh Business and Professional Network, Raleigh’s National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce’s affiliate chapter.

In Part 1 published earlier this week (link), I summarized how the meeting was structured and six high priority areas that the EEOC was working on shared by Ms. Burrows. Since I am a diversity consultant capable of handling all areas of diversity but with a deep expertise in the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) workplace and marketplace, I will expand on that subject in this “part 2.”

The most important basic point raised by Ms. Burrows is that even though sexual orientation and gender identity are not explicitly delineated as a “protected classes” in Title VII (The Civil Rights Act of 1964), the EEOC is very open to pursuing complaints in these areas. At the Federal Level, there have been an increasing number of court cases where the ruling is that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is assumed within the “sex” area of Title VII.

Ms. Burrows then mentioned two specific cases in the sexual orientation and gender identity realms:

1) In the 7th District Court Case Warnether A. Muhammad vs. Caterpillar Inc., the court initially took the position that discrimination based on sexual orientation could not be used by the plaintiff suing using Title VII. But on appeal from the EEOC, though Muhammed lost his case on other grouds, the panel did reverse its position about the invalidity of using sexual orientation discrimination in cases like these.

2) In the case of Tamara Lusardi (a transgender woman) vs. the US Army, (link to Washington Blade article) the EEOC ruled that prohibiting Tamara from using the restroom identified with her gender constituted gender discrimination under the law.

Ms. Burrows strongly made the point that the EEOC is truly “open for business” to pursue discrimination complaints based on sexual orientation and gender identity, and that over the past few years, over $3M in fines and settlements in these areas have been recorded. She further shared the statistic that in the LGBT area, about 80% of the cases coming to them are around sexual orientation and about 20% around gender identity.

During Q and A when I inquired about the dichotomy between the EEOC pursuing these cases in the light of no national ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) that includes protections based on sexual orientation or gender identity, she replied that a congressional passed ENDA law would certainly make this discussion much more “cut and dry” and send a very strong national message. However, even with the current absence of an EDNA, the EEOC will certainly still pursue LGBT discrimination cases.

As stated in part 1 of this blog, I am very grateful for the EEOC in fighting employment discrimination for ALL PEOPLE. And even in my own research I later found this very useful resource from the Chamber of Commerce to assist people in addressing discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

Congratulations on Your Wedding! And Condolences on Losing Your Job.

In a majority of US States, gay couples are able to get married, but then may get fired from work the very next day.

In a majority of US States, gay couples are able to get married, but then may get fired from work the very next day.

UPDATE JULY 17: Check out this link to read about and support the newly proposed Equality Act coming before the US Congress.

June 26, 2015 was indeed a very exciting and historic day for the LGBT community and our supporters as the United States Supreme Court ruled that same gender marriage is now a basic right for all Americans across all 50 states. This ends the past confusing patchwork of some states offering same gender marriage, others offering domestic partnership arrangements, while still others invaliding all forms of gay unions and relationships.

Just as this decision was being announced, I was in the middle of presenting “LGBT Diversity in the Workplace and Marketplace” at the Georgia Diversity Council’s half day “LGBT & Allies Diversity Summit” being held on the campus of my Alma Mater Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia. Someone monitoring the Supreme Court announcements on their smart phone in the back of the room interrupted to break this momentous news, and the room exploded into cheering and applause.

After the session, I did a brief interview with one of the session’s later panelists, Mariela Romero, the Community Empowerment Director for Univision Communications, which offers Spanish-speaking televisions coverage including its channel in Atlanta. Mariela asked me to comment on the significance of this announcement as well as looking forward to what is next.

THE SIGNIFICANCE: This is absolutely huge, finally granting a universal right and one of the most basic human institutions and arrangements, marriage, to all Americans. I commented that with the mobility of the USA population frequently moving between states, it was critical to finally make same-gender marriage a common practice everywhere in our country. Same gender couples relocating between states that recognize or invalidate their marriages caused a huge amount of consternation and confusion. Something as basic as marriage equality and availability certainly needs to nationwide.

WHAT IS NEXT: Since I was there in Atlanta to present LGBT diversity within a business and organization framework, I did need to focus on the sad reality that, across a majority of US states, a gay person could get married one day and get fired from their job the very next. Employment nondiscrimination protection based on sexual orientation and gender identity is not law at the federal level as is employment protection based on gender, race, religion, etc. In most states, you can be the very best employee meeting and exceeding the requirements of your job, and your boss can fire you simply out of personal dislike for LGBT people.

ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) has been languishing in the US Congress for well over a decade, so like marriage in the past, a patchwork of employment protections is available only in some states (see map at bottom of blog.) Thankfully a vast majority of Fortune 1000 firms voluntarily include these protections in their own corporate non-discrimination policies (link to the Human Rights Campaign listing), and President Obama issued an executive order effective April 2015 requiring such protection for companies and their subcontractors with federal contracts. (link to my blog and federal site with the info.)

So let’s celebrate as many of our LGBT friends young and old get married, and let’s also be tireless advocates for also now providing universal employment protection across the entire United States!

Only the dark shaded states offer workplace discrimination protections based on gender identity and /or sexual orientation

Only the dark shaded states offer workplace discrimination protections based on gender identity and /or sexual orientation