A ground breaking ruling was announced by the federal appellate court with jurisdiction over the Indiana readership of Business People, holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects workers against discrimination based on their sexual orientation. Title VII makes it unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex or national origin...” The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission began to assert the position that Title VII prohibits “sexual orientation” discrimination, but its position is not binding law since it is an administrative agency.
In a matter involving a state community college and a part-time adjunct professor who is openly gay, the majority of the Court of Appeals concluded that sex discrimination includes discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation. The charging party in an EEOC matter alleged she was being denied a full-time position with the school, though she had been employed part time for over a decade. Soon thereafter, her contract was not renewed. The Appeals Court determined that “sex stereotyping” was a factor, since the teacher was not conforming to a stereotype based on the sex of her partner, and therefore, her sexual orientation was admissible.
The professor also argued that she was being discriminated against under an “associational theory.” It is accepted law that a person who is discriminated against because of the protected characteristics of a person with whom he or she associates is being disadvantaged because of her own traits. In the plaintiff’s case, if the sex of her partner (female rather than male) led to her being treated unfavorably in the workplace, then that distinction is “because of sex.” Our federal circuit stated: “No matter which category is involved, the essence of the claim is that the plaintiff would not be suffering the adverse action had his or her sex, race, color, national origin or religion been different”.
Those of you with fifteen or more employees, and therefore covered by Title VII, need to update your policies and practices to ensure they do not permit discrimination, harassment or retaliation on the basis of sexual orientation.