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EEOC Argues Title VII Prohibits Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation

Central Florida Sexual Orientation Discrimination Case Appeal Backed by EEOC

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief for the appeal of a recent Central Florida sexual orientation discrimination case. The brief was submitted to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on January 6, 2016.

The case Burrows v. The College of Central Florida was heard by the U.S. District Court in Tampa, Florida on July 2015. The District Court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgement and dismissed the case stating, “[p]laintiff’s claim, although cast as a claim for gender stereotype discrimination, is merely a repackaged claim for discrimination based on sexual orientation, which is not cognizable under Title VII,” and other state laws. Barbara Burrows, former professor at The College of Central Florida, claimed that she was subject to “gender stereotyping” while employed by the college, and following the ruling on a summary judgement, appealed to the 11th Circuit Court.

In January, the EEOC filed a “friend of court” brief for the appeal with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta arguing, “[s]exual orientation discrimination is cognizable as sex discrimination under Title VII.” The brief outlined three separate points regarding past cases and sex-based biases.”

The issues included in the EEOC’s brief stated:

  • First, sexual orientation discrimination necessarily involves sex stereotyping, as it results in the adverse treatment of individuals because their orientation does not conform to heterosexually defined gender norms. Such discrimination based on gender stereotypes violates Title VII, as explained in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 109 S. Ct. 1775 (1989), and Glenn v. Brumby, 663 F.3d 1312 (11th Cir. 2011).
  • Second, sexual orientation discrimination constitutes gender-based associational discrimination. Courts, including this Court, have routinely held that associational discrimination is actionable under analogous circumstances implicating race.
  • Third, Title VII generally prohibits sex-based considerations in the employment context, and discrimination based on sexual orientation necessarily requires such impermissible consideration of a plaintiff’s sex.[3]

Therefore, the EEOC argues in favor of protections found within Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to be extended to include sexual orientation discrimination, since it necessarily involves gender or “sex stereotyping”, which is in violation of Title VII.

The brief continued to state the importance of this interpretation, “Sexual orientation discrimination necessarily involves sex stereotyping, as it results in the adverse treatment of individuals because their orientation does not conform to heterosexually defined gender norms. Because such discrimination is at heart based on gender stereotypes, it violates Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination against employees “because of . . . sex.”

The Plaintiff Barbara Burrows was hired as professor, administrator and vice president for instructional affairs at the College of Central Florida in Ocala in 2008. Burrows was informed that her contract would not be renewed, and she would be transferred to a teaching position in the mathematics department. Her new position would be salaried at $40,000 a year. In March 2013, Burrows’ position was eliminated in a workforce reduction. Among her claims, Burrows included allegations of sexual orientation discrimination based on “gender stereotyping.” The Eleventh Circuit has not yet ruled on the appeal in the Burrows case.

Burrows’ EEOC case was followed by a historic ruling by the EEOC in July 2015 that held in a 3-2 decision ruling that workplace sexual orientation discrimination is illegal under federal law. law. This ruling applied to federal workers only but will likely impact how the EEOC will approach private sector investigations. The EEOC has indicated its commitment to advance the rights of LGBT employees.

Have you or someone you know experienced discrimination in the workplace? Then you need an employee rights expert. Contact an experienced employment law attorney at Wenzel Fenton Cabassa, P.A., today.

SOURCES:

Why the EEOC Believes Title VII Bans Sexual Orientation Bias

EEOC Support’s Professor’s Sexual Orientation Bias Suit

EEOC File Amicus Brief; “Sexual Orientation Discrimination is Sex Discrimination

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