Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion. However, it does not go so far to protect against discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation.
Courts often struggle with differentiating between claims of discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation that are not protected under Title VII and claims based on violating gender norms which may be covered.
To illustrate the difference, in the case of Hivey v. Ivy Tech Community College, a college instructor’s claim that she was denied promotion and ultimately terminated because she is a lesbian failed because discrimination based on sexual orientation (lesbian, gay, transgender) is not covered under Title VII.
However, in other cases, successful Title VII discrimination claims have been brought against employers for mistreating an employee because they are going against the grain of an employer’s concept of gender norms such as ‘acting’ mannish as a woman or effeminate as a man.
These sometimes interwoven claims of discrimination have many courts struggling to draw a line between discrimination based on sexual orientation and discrimination based on sex stereotyping.
Likely in an effort to address the confusion, the the full panel of the Seventh Circuit court recently reheard Hivey v. Tech Community College. Although the court may maintain the status quo, there is a chance that the court will decide that discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated.
If so, it would represent a significant change in employment law which will reverberate across the country and potentially put the kibosh on sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against in the workplace based on sex, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, pregnancy, disability or other protected statuses, the Davenport, Iowa employment law attorneys of McDonald, Woodward & Carlson PC can help. Whether you are experiencing harassment on the job or reeling from a wrongful termination, we can help you understand your rights. Email or call us at 563-355-6478 for help today.
Source: National Law Review, “Seventh Circuit Could Up-End Approach to Sexual Orientation Discrimination” accessed December 18, 2016