The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued a decision Thursday expanding federal laws banning employment discrimination to protect gays and lesbians.

The ruling follows a similar EEOC ruling in 2012 that bars businesses and the government from discriminating against transgender employees based on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The new ruling doesn't guarantee workplace protections because discrimination claims will still face court scrutiny, and it only applies to businesses with 15 or more employees.

Still, civil rights advocates applauded the move.

"The fight for basic civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people just took a big step forward," said American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT Project Director James Esseks. "Lesbian, gay and bisexual people all across the country now have a place to turn if an employer fires them because of their sexual orientation. This is a significant development because protections for gay and transgender people are almost nonexistent in federal law, and 28 states also lack state-level protections."

Before Thursday's decision, the federal government and 28 states did not bar employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation. The ACLU argues that Congress still needs to pass laws to protect LGBT and transgender workers because the protections shouldn't be left to the courts and do not ban discrimination in housing, public accommodations and federal funding.

Jut Monday, however, the Department of Housing and Urban Development issued new guidance on rules in an attempt to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination in federally subsidized housing, especially in programs designed for older Americans.

"HUD's announcement is a strong step toward ending discrimination against LGBT people in federally supported senior housing," Michael Adams, executive director of Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual and Transgender Elders, said in a statement. "With a recent report showing that housing discrimination against LGBT elders is rampant, this is just the kind of leadership we need from the federal government. Now we need to make sure that these anti discrimination protections are effectively implemented."