This week the LGBT community and its supporters won an important case in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. In Zarda v. Altitude Express, the Court ruled that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination extends to same-sex, or “anti-gay,” discrimination. In that case, Donald Zarda, a gay skydiving instructor, alleged he was unlawfully fired after a customer complained about him disclosing his same-sex orientation.
On October 5, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a formal letter on behalf of the United States Department of Justice stating the DOJ’s official position that Title VII “does not prohibit discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status,” officially retracting the DOJ’s previous position under the Obama Administration and setting up a direct conflict with the EEOC’s current position on the scope of Title VII.
In a landmark ruling on April 4, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, sitting en banc, became the first federal appellate court to officially recognize a discrimination claim under Title VII based solely on the plaintiff’s sexual orientation. The Court’s decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana reflects a groundswell of recent cases questioning whether sexual orientation claims are viable under Title VII. Although the Seventh Circuit is the only appellate court so far to hold that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of “sex” discrimination under Title VII, recent panel decisions from the Second and Eleventh Circuit Courts of Appeals signal that additional circuit courts might be poised to overrule existing case law to find similar protections. Continue Reading Circuit Courts Reevaluate Sexual Orientation Discrimination Claims Under Title VII
It has been ironclad law since the enactment of the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in 1964 that the Act’s prohibition against discrimination “because of . . . sex” does not include sexual orientation. Federal law does not prohibit employers from terminating someone for being gay or lesbian. For now, at least.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (covering Florida, Georgia, and Alabama) confirmed that proposition this month in Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital. On one hand, the court’s holding reinforced what it and every other federal appellate circuit already had determined. On the other, the court showcased perhaps the most heated internal judiciary battle yet on this issue, which has percolated at high temperatures for the past few years.
Enforcing a race-neutral grooming policy that prohibits employees from wearing dreadlocks is not intentional racial discrimination under Title VII. That is what the Eleventh Circuit recently held in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, — F.3d —, No. 14-13482, 2016 WL 4916851 (11th Cir. Sept. 15, 2016).
On August 29, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance Service, Inc., — F.3d —, No. 15-3239-CV, 2016 WL 4501673 (2d Cir. Aug. 29, 2016), holding that an employer may be held liable for a low-level employee’s animus under the cat’s paw theory of liability if the employer’s own negligence allows that animus to result in adverse employment action against another employee.
Since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed Executive Order 11246 in 1965, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has been charged with ensuring nondiscrimination and affirmative action for females in employment. In 1970, regulations were issued to further this goal, known as the Sex Discrimination Guidelines, codified at 41 CFR Part 60-20.
Those guidelines have not been substantially updated in the 46 years since. Until now, that is. The DOL acknowledges the Guidelines have become “out of touch with current law and with the realities of today’s workforce and workplaces.” See: OFCCP Fact Sheet on Sex Discrimination Final Rule. So, the OFCCP is bringing the Guidelines “from the ‘Mad Men’ era’ to the modern era.’”
On March 1, 2016, the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) sued employers for the first time for sexual orientation discrimination. The EEOC filed lawsuits in federal courts in Pittsburgh and Baltimore against manufacturing and health care employers for unlawful sex discrimination on behalf of employees alleging they were harassed and discriminated against based on their sexual orientation.
In February of 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) released detailed information and statistics summarizing the charges of discrimination that the agency received throughout its 2015 fiscal year. The EEOC is the administrative agency charged with implementing and enforcing a number of federal anti-discrimination employment statutes, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Under each of these statutes, employees seeking to bring a claim of unlawful discrimination, harassment, or retaliation must first file a charge with the EEOC. The recently released report provides helpful information regarding the types of charges that employees filed in the 2015 fiscal year, which ran from October 1, 2014 to September 20, 2015.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) is asking the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals to recognize that discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation constitutes unlawful discrimination “because of . . . sex,” in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The EEOC advances this argument in an amicus brief in support of Barbara Burrows, a lesbian college professor and administrator who claims she was subjected to sex discrimination by her former employer, the College of Central Florida, based on her same-sex marriage and how she looked and acted. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of the College, holding that Burrows’s sex discrimination claim was “merely a repackaged claim for discrimination based on sexual orientation, which is not cognizable under Title VII.” Burrows appealed, and the case is currently pending before the Eleventh Circuit.