News

7th Circuit Rules Workplace Sexual Orientation Discrimination Violates Federal Law

By Beth M. Rivers In a groundbreaking decision, the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation violates federal civil rights law. In Hively v Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, 853 F3d 339 (7th Cir 2017) the court found that such discrimination is a form of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion. This is the first time that a federal court of appeals had reached this conclusion and could potentially change the national and local landscape of employment law for LGBT people. Although courts have been reluctant to expand the protections of Title VII and the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to  include sexual orientation claims, some Michigan and federal courts have used a gender-stereotyping theory to litigate claims of sexual orientation discrimination. However, the EEOC has  recognized sexual orientation as a protected class since 2015 and has successfully pursued charges of sex discrimination based on sexual orientation. Now a court of appeals have also recognized the validity of such a claim. In Hively the plaintiff sued her employer arguing that the school violated Title VII when it denied her full-time employment and promotions after she had been seen kissing her then-girlfriend. In its decision, the Court of Appeals concluded that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation constitutes impermissible discrimination on the basis of sex – which is one of the specifically  protected categories under Title VII. In reaching this result, the Court rejected any distinction between sex discrimination based on sexual orientation and sex discrimination based on gender stereotyping noting that while courts have previously “described the line between a gender nonconformity claim and one based on sexual orientation as gossamer thin, we conclude that it does not exist at all.” The Court explained that Hively’s claim is no different than any other gender stereotyping claims brought by women who were rejected for job in traditionally male workplaces, such as fire departments, construction and policing as the employers in those cases were policing the boundaries of what jobs or behaviors they found acceptable for a women. Likewise discrimination based on sexual orientation flows from the premise that all men should date or marry women and that all women should date or marry men. As such, it is precisely the LGBT employee’s sex, i.e. gender, that precipitates discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In short, according to the Court, sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination and thefore Hively was permitted to proceed with her claim. While the Hively decision technically only applies to employees in the Seventh Circuit, which includes the states of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, this decision along with the position of the EEOC, has established a foothold which hopefully will be followed by additional federal courts and state courts including Michigan.

Legal News Covers Robin Wagner's Arrival at PMP&R

From the Legal News Robin Wagner has joined Royal Oak, Mich. law firm Pitt McGehee Palmer & Rivers. The announcement was made by firm co-founding partner Cary McGehee. “We’re pleased to announce that Robin has joined our law firm,” said...

Robin Wagner Joins PMP&R as Associate

The firm is pleased to announce that Robin Wagner has joined our firm as an associate. Before joining the firm, Robin served as a law clerk for the Hon. Judith E. Levy of the Eastern District of Michigan. And prior to clerking for Judge Levy, Robin...

Morris Dees Honored as Champion of Justice by MCHR

The Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR) recognized the lifetime efforts of iconic civil rights attorney Morris Dees at its recent annual dinner held at Marygrove College in Detroit. Cary McGehee, firm co-founder and longtime MCHR Chair,...

Renowned Attorney Morris Dees Honored by MCHR

Cary McGehee presents Champion of Justice Award to Morris Dees at MCHR annual dinner.[/caption] The Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR) recognized the lifetime efforts of iconic civil rights attorney Morris Dees at its recent annual dinner...

Channing Robinson-Holmes Joins Firm as Attorney

Channing Robinson began working as a law clerk at the firm in October 2015 while she was still in law school. Since that time, she has devoted innumerable hours to the firm’s class actions against Michigan’s Unemployment Insurance Agency, as...

UIA Fraud Class-Action Continues to Gain Steam

In September 2015, firm attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit against the State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA). The complaint alleges that the automated system used for adjudicating unemployment insurance fraud, falsely accused as...

PMP&R Host Flint Water Community Information Meeting

On April 24, 2017, the Flint Water Class Action Legal Team held an informational meeting for the Flint community at Greater Holy Temple Church of God in Christ in Flint. Throughout the night, Flint residents and other attendees spoke with...