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Why Is The EEOC's Ruling On Sexual Orientation-Based Discrimination A Big Deal?

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars sexual orientation-based employment discrimination.

Posted on July 17, 2015, at 8:47 a.m. ET

The ruling is “a groundbreaking decision to advance legal protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers,” BuzzFeed News’ Chris Geidner writes. With the news, we asked Chris two quick questions about why it’s so important and what we can expect next.

You called the EEOC's ruling "groundbreaking" — why is this a big deal?

GEIDNER: The EEOC is the federal entity charged with interpreting the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for the federal government. So this decision is applicable to the entire federal government and is a decision that courts give deference to because of their expertise. While some courts at some times have disagreed with the EEOC’s decisions, they do give deference to it.

We saw in 2012 the EEOC had a similar decision about transgender workers and that led, this past December, to the Obama administration similarly weighing in, agreeing with that interpretation and both the Obama administration and the DOJ are filing court cases advancing that. And so this is groundbreaking because this is the same sort of decision for lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers as we had in 2012 for trans workers.

What’s next?

GEIDNER: Well, what’s next is EEOC Commissioner Chai Feldblum, one of the people who’s really been behind this effort, has talked a lot publicly about the fact that she doesn’t think these sort of interpretations negate the need for legislation that would explicitly provide protections for sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

At the same time, obviously, LGBT advocates aren’t expecting to get a lot through a House and Senate that are both controlled by Republicans. The other strategy discussed is using this ruling to advance this theory of Title VII as providing protections for LGBT people at the EEOC — but also by going to court and trying to get courts to rule in agreement with this interpretation. That debate is something discussed through advocates quoted in my story on the EEOC ruling.