Federal Judge Holds that Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation Is Already Prohibited by Title VII

A U.S. district court judge has ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on certain protected classes, may also apply to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Terveer v. Billington, No. 1:12-cv-01290, mem. op. (D.D.C., Mar. 31, 2014). While many state anti-discrimination statutes expressly include sexual orientation as a protected class, the federal Title VII does not. The judge allowed the case to proceed on the basis of sex discrimination, religious discrimination, and retaliation under Title VII.

The plaintiff was hired in February 2008 to work for the Office of the Inspector General of the Library of Congress. His direct supervisor was, according to the court, “a religious man who was accustomed to making his faith known in the workplace.” Id. at 2. The plaintiff became friends with the supervisor and his family. The supervisor’s daughter learned that the plaintiff is homosexual in August 2009, after which the supervisor’s treatment of the plaintiff changed considerably.

The supervisor allegedly began to give the plaintiff ambiguous instructions for work assignments, assigned him as the sole employee on projects that needed multiple people, and lectured him on the sinful nature of homosexuality. The plaintiff reported his concerns to the next-level supervisor, who allegedly told him the employees have no rights in his opinion. No remedial action was taken. In June 2011, the plaintiff was denied his within-grade pay increase, and the supervisor allegedly subjected him to “hostile and abusive interrogation” when he learned of his intent to appeal the denial. Id. at 6. After taking medical leave twice, the plaintiff alleges that he was constructively discharged in April 2012 because of ongoing discrimination by the two supervisors.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of multiple protected classes, including “affectional or sexual orientation.” NJ Rev. Stat. § 10:5-12(a). Federal law, however, only expressly prohibits discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a). The plaintiff asserted three causes of action under Title VII for sex discrimination, religious discrimination, and retaliation. He also asserted a claim for equal protection violations under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, alleging that “his identity as a homosexual male represents a departure from sex stereotypes recognized by Defendant.” Id. at 9.

The defendant moved to dismiss the lawsuit for failing to state a cognizable claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The court held that the plaintiff sufficiently pled a sex discrimination claim based on “sex stereotyping,” a form of discrimination recognized by the Supreme Court in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228 (1989), by asserting that the defendant denied the plaintiff promotions and created a hostile work environment because of his “nonconformity with male sex stereotypes.” Terveer, mem. op. at 21.

The plaintiff had also pled sufficient facts to sustain a claim of religious discrimination for failing to follow the employer’s religious beliefs. See Shapolia v. Los Alamos Nat’l Laboratory, 992 F.2d 1033 (1993). The court sustained the retaliation claim on similar grounds. The court dismissed the Fifth Amendment claim, however, finding that it was precluded by his Title VII claims. In so doing, the court implicitly allowed a claim of discrimination based on sexual orientation to proceed under Title VII.

If you need to speak to an employment attorney in New Jersey or New York about sexual orientation discrimination or other unlawful employment practices, contact the Resnick Law Group at 973-781-1204 or (646) 867-7997.

More Blog Posts:

New Jersey Law Protects Workers from Discrimination Prohibited by Proposed Federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, December 5, 2013
Exxon to Begin Offering Same-Sex Spousal Benefits in New Jersey and Across the U.S. Amid Allegations of Sexual Orientation Discrimination, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, December 3, 2013
MLB Adopts New Policy Against Sexual Orientation Harassment and Discrimination in New Jersey and Elsewhere, The New Jersey Employment Law Firm Blog, August 7, 2013

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