Federal Judge Rules Gays Are Protected by Sex Discrimination Laws

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has issued a game-change ruling finding that gays and lesbians are protected from employment discrimination by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

BY Daniel Reynolds

April 03 2014 3:02 PM ET

A federal judged has determined that gays and lesbians who have experienced bias in the workplace can find relief under existing sex discrimination laws.

U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has ruled that Peter TerVeer, a gay man who is suing his employer, the Library of Congress, because his supervisor created "a hostile environment in which he imposed his religion and sexual stereotypes," falls under the protections of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In a preliminary ruling that allowed the lawsuit to move forward, Kollar-Kotelly found that discrimination that stems from noncomformity to “gender stereotypes associated with men” is prohibited by Title VII, which prohibits workplace discrimination due to sex.

As Kollar-Kotelly notes in her preliminary ruling issued Monday, “Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating ‘against any individual … because of such individual’s … sex.’ Under Title VII, allegations that an employer is discriminating against an employee based on the employee’s non-conformity with sex stereotypes are sufficient to establish a viable sex discrimination claim.”

“Here, Plaintiff has alleged that he is ‘a homosexual male whose sexual orientation is not consistent with the Defendant’s perception of acceptable gender roles,’ that his ‘status as a homosexual male did not conform to the Defendant’s gender stereotypes associated with men under Mech’s supervision or at the LOC,’ and that ‘his orientation as homosexual had removed him from Mech’s preconceived definition of male," she continued.

“As Plaintiff has alleged that Defendant denied him promotions and created a hostile work environment because of Plaintiff’s nonconformity with male sex stereotypes,” she concluded, “Plaintiff has met his burden of setting forth ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief’ as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a). Accordingly, the Court denies Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim (Count I) for failure to state a claim.”

Because TerVeer’s boss, John Mech, also allegedly imposed antigay religious views upon his employee, TerVeer may also be able to find relief under religious discrimination, noted Kollar-Kotelly. The preliminary ruling listed several instances of such acts. On June 24, 2009, Mech told Vermeer “putting you … closer to God is my effort to encourage you to save your worldly behind.” A few months later, TerVeer also received an email from his Catholic boss that contained photographs of assault weapons. The caption read “Diversity: Let’s Celebrate It.”

In 2012 the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made the landmark ruling that Title VII does not simply prohibit discrimination based on biological sex, but also includes “protections sweep far broader than that, in part because the term 'gender' encompasses not only a person’s biological sex but also the cultural and social aspects associated with masculinity and femininity.”

Since this ruling, several transgender people have found relief under Title VII, but TerVeer would be the first to obtain a ruling that these protections cover sexual orientation.

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