Historically, federal laws governing employment discrimination have not covered discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation. However, the last decade has seen an increase in issues related to these characteristics. As these issues have moved to the forefront of the American social conscience, various governmental agencies have begun to deal with related employment discrimination issues, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). An Eleventh Circuit case involving Georgia Regional Hospital has brought these issues to the forefront in Alabama.
Federal Law is Not Settled on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues
Although some states may be willing to recognize discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, that recognition is not close to uniform. Federal law, specifically, has not resolved this issue and the Eleventh Circuit’s recent decision has made the issue more complicated. Despite various bills prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation, there has been an unwillingness to pass any type of federal legislation that would specifically ban such discriminatory employment practices.
Title VII Does Not Mention Sexual Orientation
Federal employment law does not currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination or harassment expressly. Although Title VII explicitly makes it an “unlawful employment practice for any employer to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual, . . . because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” it does not mention sexual orientation. So, without any specific legislation, the conflicting case law that currently exists only complicates the issue further.
Eleventh Circuit Case Against Georgia Regional Hospital
According to a lawsuit against the Georgia Regional Hospital, a security officer voluntarily resigned because she alleges she was denied equal pay for equal work, harassed, physically assaulted, and targeted for termination simply because she did not conform to traditional sexual stereotypes. She asserted her claim by saying that her employer’s conduct violated Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination “on the basis of sex.”
However, the trial court did not agree with her characterization of the issues and then dismissed her claims because Title VII “was not intended to cover discrimination against homosexuals.” The court also rejected her argument regarding sexual stereotyping as simply being another form of sexual orientation discrimination.
The appellate court first affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Evans’ sex stereotyping claim. However, the 11th Circuit concluded that the trial court erred in ruling that such a claim is invalid and just another way to assert sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII. The court specifically recognized that sex stereotyping claims are valid. Nevertheless, it affirmed the dismissal of Evans’ case because she failed to provide sufficient evidence to create a plausible inference that she had suffered discrimination based on a sex stereotype. The appellate court sent the case back to the district court to allow her to make another attempt at pleading a valid claim under her sex stereotyping theory.
The Eleventh Circuit agreed with the trial court, holding that “binding precedent forecloses” a legal action for sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII. In light of this ruling, sexual orientation discrimination is not a valid claim in Alabama, Florida, and Georgia, according to the Eleventh Circuit.
If you feel you have been the victim of discrimination or retaliation in the workplace, or if you have any other questions regarding your employment rights, please contact the experienced employment law attorneys at Michel | King . You can contact us either online or by calling us at (205) 265-1880. We are here to serve you!