Articles Posted in Title VII

Lev Craig

Last Friday, the parties submitted a settlement agreement for approval in Cote v. Walmart, a class action suit filed in federal court alleging that Walmart discriminated against gay Walmart employees by denying spousal health insurance coverage to same-sex married couples. The settlement would provide $7.5 million for current and former Walmart employees who could not obtain employer health insurance benefits for their same-sex spouse.

The suit was the first class action filed on behalf of gay employees after the Supreme Court’s June 2015 ruling extending marriage equality in Obergefell v. Hodges, according to the Boston-based LGBT legal advocacy group GLAD. Jackie Cote filed suit in the District of Massachusetts in July 2015, bringing claims against Walmart under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) and the Massachusetts Fair Employment Practices Law on behalf of Walmart employees who were married to a same-sex spouse and did not receive spousal health insurance benefits from Walmart between 2011 and 2013.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On November 4, 2016, the Western District of Pennsylvania—joining the Middle District of Alaska, District of the District of Columbia, District of Oregon, and Central District of California—held that a gay person has standing to bring a sex discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). In EEOC v. Scott Medical Health Center, the Complainant, Dale Baxley, alleges that his supervisor, Robert McClendon, Scott Medical Health Center’s telemarketing manager, subjected him to a hostile work environment because he is a gay man. After Scott Medical Health Center’s president and chief executive officer allegedly ignored his complaint about the discrimination and harassment, Mr. Baxley quit.

In the complaint, Mr. Baxley alleges that Mr. McClendon called him a “fag,” “faggot,” “fucking faggot,” and “queer,” and, after learning that Mr. Baxley had a male partner, made statements such as “I always wondered how you fags have sex,” “I don’t understand how you fucking fags have sex,” and “Who’s the butch and who is the bitch?” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) argued that Title VII covered this type of harassment as, had it not been but for Mr. Baxley’s sex, he would not have been subjected to this harassment. The court agreed, stating that Title VII’s “because of sex” provision prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Lev Craig

In August, we reported on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, which held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Last week, on October 11, the Seventh Circuit vacated the Hively decision and granted rehearing en banc. Plaintiff filed a petition for rehearing en banc, which requests that the Seventh Circuit hear the case before a panel of all active judges. Although en banc hearings ordinarily are not ordered, a case may be reheard en banc where the proceedings involve a request of exceptional importance.

In Hively, Kimberly Hively, a part-time adjunct professor at Ivy Tech Community College, alleged that her employer had discriminated against her by denying her full-time employment and promotions because of her sexual orientation. Hively argued that this treatment violated Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination. The federal district court for the Northern District of Indiana dismissed Hively’s complaint on the grounds that Title VII did not cover sexual orientation discrimination and, as such, there was no legal basis for Hively’s claims. Hively then appealed to the Seventh Circuit.

Lev Craig

Last week, in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc., the federal district court for the Eastern District of Michigan ruled on summary judgment that a funeral home’s termination of a transgender employee did not violate Title VII because the employer was entitled to a religious accommodation under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”).

In October 2007, Aimee Stephens, started working at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc. (the “Funeral Home”) as a funeral director and embalmer. On July 31, 2013, Ms. Stephens wrote a letter to the Funeral Home, in which she came out as transgender. In this letter, Ms. Stephens informed the Funeral Home that, as part of her transition from male to female, she planned to wear women’s clothing to work in accordance with the Funeral Home’s gendered dress code, which mandates that male employees wear a suit and tie and that female employees wear a skirt suit.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

On March 25, 2016, we reported on landmark lawsuits filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) in a blog titled “EEOC Files Landmark Lawsuits Alleging Sexual Orientation Discrimination Under Title VII.” In these cases, the EEOC asserted claims of sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) on behalf of workers.  Title VII provides the basic anti-discrimination protection that most employees in the United States enjoy.  These new cases are significant because they mark a departure from the previous interpretation of sexual orientation under Title VII: treating sexual orientation as a protected characteristic under Title VII where it previously had not been viewed as such.

Title VII protects against discrimination on the basis of sex. The EEOC asserted that sexual orientation claims constitute a form of sex discrimination, arguing that sexual orientation and sex are inherently linked and that sexual orientation discrimination involves gender stereotypes and adherence to gender norms. While some states and municipalities have enacted laws explicitly protecting against sexual orientation discrimination, the EEOC’s expansion of Title VII brought these protections to millions of American workers who do not live in regions with state or local anti–sexual orientation discrimination statutes.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

Women often are the victims of gender discrimination when they apply for traditionally “male” jobs. This type of gender discrimination is particularly pernicious because it is a vicious cycle: a “man’s job” is a “man’s job” because men tend to do it, which discourages interested women from applying because doing so goes “against their sex.” Thus, when women inevitably do not apply, the job remains only a “man’s job.” According to the World Bank, “Gender segregation in access to economic opportunities in turn reinforces gender differences in time use and in access to inputs, and perpetuates market and institutional failures.”  As a result, women—especially those less educated who live in poorer regions—face greater challenges than men finding work and supporting themselves and their families.

To fight these market and institutional failures in the United States, Congress enacted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination against women in employment. Enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Title VII is the U.S.’s principal defense against sex discrimination.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

“Dating on the job is like eating at your desk: Invariably, it’s going to get messy,” said Mark Oldman, co-founder and director of Vault.com. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against an employee with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of such individual’s sex. In Meritor Savings Bank, FSB v. Vinson, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized sexual harassment as a type of sex discrimination. “[W]hen a supervisor sexually harasses a subordinate’s sex, that supervisor ‘discriminate[s]’ on the basis of sex.” Under Title VII, there are two cognizable claims of sexual harassment: hostile work environment and quid pro quo. A sexually hostile work environment occurs where the harassment is so severe or pervasive that is “alter[s] the conditions of [the plaintiff’s] employment and create[s] an abusive working environment.” Quid pro quo sexual harassment occurs where a boss coerces a subordinate to participate in a sexual relationship or retaliates against her by punishing her for refusing sexual advances. But what about a consensual sexual relationship between a boss and a subordinate? Is that permissible under Title VII?

Although co-workers in sexual relationships may knowingly or subconsciously give each other preferential treatment, favoritism is not usually sex-based discrimination, even if it is bad for business. A “paramour” claim occurs where a supervisor promotes their in-office lover before other more qualified employees, raises their salary, or otherwise grants them benefits not awarded to other employees. However, almost universally, courts have held that a co-worker that is disadvantaged by an employer’s in-office sexual relationship cannot bring an action against that employer for the simple reason that such discrimination is not because of “sex” within the meaning of Title VII. Instead, it is because of a personal relationship; therefore, it is not actionable.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

Anyone living in the United States at the moment is undoubtedly aware that the 2016 election season is in full swing. This week, the news has been dominated by the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. On Tuesday night, the theme of the Convention was – ostensibly – “Make America Work Again.” Despite the stated theme, the speakers rarely touched on economic policies or issues, instead preferring to resort to the same attacks against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton ­– private email server, Benghazi, etc. – that were made the night before.

On the few occasions where the Convention speakers did touch on economic issues, they primarily bemoaned the state of the “middle class worker” in America. According to the speakers, the problem facing middle class American workers is that “regulation” is choking the economy and preventing American business owners from doing whatever they need to in order to create jobs.

Edgar M. Rivera, Esq.

On June 2, 2016, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) proposed enforcement guidance addressing national origin discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). The guidance sets forth the agency’s interpretation of national origin discrimination under Title VII. This enforcement guidance will supersede the 2002 EEOC Compliance Manual, Vol. II, Section 13: National Origin Discrimination.

Title VII prohibits an employer from treating its employee unfavorably due to his or her national origin, which includes discrimination based on ethnicity, the appearance of an ethnic background, or the association with a particular country or part of the world. National origin discrimination often overlaps with race, color, or religious discrimination because a national origin group may be associated or perceived to be associated with a particular religion or race. For example, discrimination against people with origins in the Middle East may be motivated by race (Arab), by national origin (Jordan), or religion (Islam). As a result, the same set of facts may state claims alleging multiple bases of discrimination. The proposed guidance also includes three new areas of coverage: job segregation, human trafficking, and intersectional discrimination.

Yarelyn Mena

On May 31, 2016, in Janean E. Chambers v. Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that an employee may suffer an adverse employment action where an employer refuses to promote the employee to a non-existent position. Janean Chambers—a longtime, legally blind, Black employee of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (“HHS”)—filed a complaint alleging race and disability discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII, and Rehabilitation Act against the HHS after HHS denied her several requests for promotions.

In 2006, HHS promoted Ms. Chambers to management analyst. In 2007, she applied for a another promotion; however, her supervisor, Michael Curtis, informed her that her position was capped at the current pay level and that she could apply for other positions within HHS of a higher pay level or request a “desk audit” to demonstrate that her skills warranted a higher pay level. Ms. Chambers instead decided to continue working in her position and sought an “informal” promotion by requesting the creation of a higher pay level vacancy with the same responsibilities as her current position, which HHS commonly granted. Mr. Curtis supported Ms. Chamber’s efforts but advised her that he did not have the authority to create a new position.