The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has ruled that workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is illegal under federal law, setting the stage for litigation aimed at striking down such practices.

The ruling, issued last week, hinged on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination on the basis of sex in employment settings. In a 3-2 vote along party lines, the commission concluded that while the act did not explicitly prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians, "an allegation of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination."

The commission did not widely publicize the ruling, dated Wednesday, but it quickly drew attention among advocacy groups and legal experts.

The ruling applies to discrimination that may arise in hiring, firing and promotion decisions, and employees' working conditions.

New York Times