On March 27, 2017, a New York federal appeals court issued a decision about gender stereotype discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The trial court determined that previous legal decisions barred claims of sexual orientation discrimination and that the case before it was a sexual orientation case not a gender stereotype case, so the judge dismissed it. Today’s employment blog discusses gender stereotype discrimination and the appellate court’s decision.
In Christiansen v. Omnicom Group, Inc., the plaintiff was a gay HIV-positive man. He worked for the defendant company. He alleged his supervisor harassed him based on his “effeminancy and sexual orientation.” The court detailed several instances of the harassment, including explicit drawings of him on an office whiteboard.
After filing a complaint with the EEOC and receiving a right to sue letter, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York. The defendants moved to dismiss the lawsuit arguing the lawsuit was really a sexual orientation discrimination case which, per prior appellate court decisions, could not be maintained. The plaintiff argued the case was about “gender stereotyping” and so the claims were appropriately brought under Title VII. The trial court determined that the lawsuit as a whole read as a claim of sexual orientation discrimination and so it should be dismissed.
On appeal, the plaintiff asked the court to recognize that sexual orientation discrimination may be asserted under Title VII. The Court declined to do so citing it was bound by the court’s previous decisions.
But, the appellate court held that the lawsuit stated a valid claim based on gender stereotyping, as a theory of sex discrimination set forth in the Supreme Court’s Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins case. The Court determined that the conduct directed at the plaintiff describing him as effeminate and other pictures of him with a female body, supported that the discrimination was based on gender stereotyping.
In sum, the Court clarified its previous decisions, stating that “gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals do not have less protection under Price Waterhouse against traditional gender stereotype discrimination than do heterosexual individuals. Simonton and Dawson merely hold that being gay, lesbian, or bisexual, standing alone, does not constitute nonconformity with a gender stereotype that can give rise to a cognizable gender stereotyping claim.”
Finally, the Court gave plaintiffs an important guideline to follow in drafting complaints which allege gender stereotyping discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination. Plaintiffs, the Court said, should “detail instances of sexual orientation discrimination in violation of state and local law alongside alleged instances of gender stereotyping discrimination in violation of federal law.”
Ultimately, in Christiansen, the Court reversed the trial’s court’s decision and remanded the case for further proceedings.
If you have questions about the Christiansen case, gender stereotyping discrimination, or sexual orientation discrimination, contact the employment lawyers on Long Island of Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC at 631-352-0050. We are available on the internet at http://www.linycemploymentlaw.com or Facebook.
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