This post was drafted with contribution from Annie Prasad, law clerk.
The Supreme Court has made federal contracting more treacherous by extending the reach of False Claims Act (“FCA”) liability. While the decision related to FCA liability for misrepresentations related to staffing levels, the case may provide a roadmap for federal officials looking to trigger FCA claims against contractors who are noncompliant with federal labor laws enforced by the Department of Labor. Specifically, those at risk of debarment or cancellation of contracts due to noncompliance with Executive Order 11246 or the proposed Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order may be at risk of more serious penalties.
Today marks the twentieth anniversary of “Equal Pay Day,” which the National Committee on Pay Equity launched as a public awareness event in 1996 to symbolize how far into the year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year. In more than 50 years since enactment of the federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), women have made significant progress in the workplace and now make up roughly half of the American workforce. However, women working full time still earn, on average, 79 cents for every dollar earned by men, and this number has barely moved in over a decade. That said, it is still not clear that employer bias is to blame for the gap that remains. Indeed, the pay gap measures only the difference in average earnings between all men and all women; it is not a proxy for pay bias—i.e., the failure to pay women equal pay for equal work. Eliminating pay bias is important, but focusing heavily on perceived employer bias obscures a much more complex web of factors contributing to the problem of pay differences between men and women.
Earlier this month, the EEOC filed its first lawsuits against employers alleging sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII, arguing that Title VII’s protections extend to sexual orientation as a form of gender bias. In the lawsuit against Scott Medical Health Center filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the EEOC alleges that a gay male employee was subjected to harassment, including anti-gay epithets, because of his sexual orientation. In the suit against Pallet Companies d/b/a/ IFCO Systems filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland, the EEOC alleges that a supervisor harassed a lesbian employee because of her sexual orientation, including making numerous comments about her sexual orientation and appearance. The EEOC alleges that the employers violated Title VII, which extends protection to workers who are discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. In both cases, the EEOC takes the position that sexual orientation discrimination necessarily entails treating employees less favorably because of their sex, thus triggering Title VII’s protections.
On the heels of the landmark decision by the Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage, the EEOC held on July 15, 2015 that sex discrimination under Title VII includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Even though the decision is not binding precedent in federal court, and runs contrary to a significant body of case law holding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it could be regarded by some courts as persuasive authority. The decision could also have an impact on employers in the form of an increased number of administrative charges of discrimination filed with the EEOC based on sexual orientation, as courts determine whether to adopt the EEOC’s interpretation.