Wyatt Employment Law Report

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The Sixth Circuit Rules an Employer Violated Title VII by Terminating its Transgender Employee

By R. Joseph Stennis, Jr.Business people walking together in the city

On March 7, 2018, the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed a district court decision and ruled in favor of a transgender employee who claimed she was terminated by her employer based on her sex pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Aimee Stephens, formerly known as Anthony Stephens, worked as a funeral director at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Homes, Inc.  The funeral home had a dress code policy, requiring male employees to wear suits and female employees to wear skirts and business jackets.  The funeral home provided free suits to the male employees, but did not (at least initially) provide female employees with any clothing to comply with the company’s dress code policy.  Stephens informed the funeral home that she would be transitioning from male to female and therefore would begin to dress to be in compliance with the company’s dress code for females.  Shortly thereafter, Continue reading

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Second Circuit Recognizes Sexual Orientation Discrimination as Subset of Sex Discrimination under Title VII

By Courtney Samford

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit recently held that Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Zarda v. Altitude Express, No. 15-3775 (2d Cir. 2018).  With this decision, the Second Circuit joins the Seventh Circuit as the second court to recognize sexual orientation as a protected class under federal law.

Donald Zarda was a skydiving instructor who claimed that he was terminated from his position after he told a client that he was gay.  He sued his former employer and its owner, alleging that Title VII and New York law prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The lower court granted partial summary judgment in favor of the employer on the ground that Title VII does not protect gay and lesbian employees.  Zarda died in a skydiving accident prior to trial, so Continue reading

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Sixth Circuit to Weigh In on Religious Protection and Transgender Rights

By Amanda Warford Edge

Last week, a Detroit funeral home filed a brief with the Sixth Circuit arguing that it could fire a transgender employee who refused to follow its sex-specific dress code. According to the funeral home, allowing the employee (who was transitioning from male to female) to wear women’s clothes at work — namely, a skirt suit — would violate the religious beliefs of the home’s owner.

Last year, at the district court level, the Court said that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (“RFRA”) shielded the funeral home from liability because the termination stemmed from its owner’s devout Christian worldview. In other words, the Court held that the funeral home was entitled to a religious exemption under RFRA and, therefore, did not violate federal employment discrimination law. In making its ruling, the Court reasoned, in part, that transgender people are not protected by federal anti-bias law.

The EEOC appealed this ruling and filed its brief in February. The funeral home has now asked the Court to affirm the holding that Title VII does not protect transgender people because the meaning of “sex” when Title VII was passed did not include the concept of gender identity. The funeral home also remains adamant that RFRA provides a legal defense for its enforcement of its sex-specific dress code.

The case is EEOC v. RG & GR Harris Funeral Homes, Case No. 16-2424.

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Post Young v. UPS: City of Florence, Kentucky Settles Pregnancy and Disability Lawsuit with Female Police Officers

By R. Joseph Stennis, Jr.

GavelThe City of Florence (“Florence” or “the City”) recently entered into a proposed consent decree, pending court approval, to resolve a discrimination lawsuit the Justice Department filed regarding two City female police officers.  The lawsuit, filed last month, alleges both officers were discriminated against based on pregnancy and disability grounds pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title I of the American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).  According to the complaint, Florence female police officers Lyndi Trischler and Samantha Riley requested light duty in 2014 when both were unable to perform their duties as patrol officers due to their pregnancies.  Officer Trischler also suffered from complications resulting from a diagnosed high-risk pregnancy and requested light duty as a reasonable accommodation.

Florence’s light duty policy at the time of Ms. Trischler’s and Ms. Riley’s requests was limited to employees with on-the-job injuries only.  The City also required that employees with non-work related illnesses, injuries, or conditions provide information that establishes they have “no restrictions” prior to returning to work.  Florence denied both officers’ requests and required them to take leave instead.

This was the first lawsuit filed by the Justice Department challenging an entity’s light duty policy following the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in last year’s Young v. UPS case.  In Young, UPS had a similar ‘employees injured on the job’ policy as Florence.  Peggy Young was a UPS pickup and Continue reading

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Seventh Circuit Rejects Claim of Sexual Orientation Discrimination

By Jordan M. White

rainbow flagJust last year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) ruled that sexual orientation discrimination is unlawful under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  On July 28, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit rejected the EEOC’s determination and ruled that Title VII does not protect employees from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  In Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, Kimberly Hively, a part-time adjunct professor, claimed that she was denied full-time employment and promotions because she was a lesbian.  Hively began her teaching career at Ivy Tech in 2000.  Between 2009 and 2014, she applied for six full-time positions. She alleged that the college never even interviewed her for any of those positions, despite having the necessary qualifications and a record of positive work performance evaluations.

In December 2013, Hively filed a charge with the EEOC, alleging that she had been discriminated against on the basis of her sexual orientation and had been “blocked from full-time employment without just cause.”  Ivy Tech did not renew her part-time employment contract in July 2014 and she filed suit.  Ivy Tech successfully argued at Continue reading

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U.S. Supreme Court Addresses Statute of Limitations in Constructive Discharge Case

By Courtney Ross Samford

Supreme Court 2On May 23, 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the limitations period for a constructive discharge claim under Title VII runs from the date the employee gives notice of his resignation, as opposed to the employer’s alleged discriminatory behavior, in Green v. Brennan, Postmaster General, No. 14-613, 2016 WL 2945236 (U.S. May 23, 2016).  The case involves Marvin Green, who worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 35 years.  He applied for a promotion in a nearby post office, but was not selected for the position.  As an African American male, Mr. Green complained that he was passed over because of his race.

Mr. Green began experiencing problems with his supervisors shortly after filing his complaint, which culminated in two supervisors accusing him of committing a federal crime.  Following an investigation, Mr. Green and the Postal Service entered into a settlement agreement on December 16, 2009, whereby the Postal Service agreed not to pursue any criminal charges against Mr. Green in exchange for his agreement to leave his current position.  The settlement agreement allowed Mr. Green to retire or accept a position for a considerably lower salary in a different location.  Mr. Green submitted his resignation on February 9, 2010.

Forty-one days after submitting his resignation (and 96 days after signing the settlement agreement with the Postal Service), Mr. Green contacted an Continue reading

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EEOC Weighs In On Bathroom Issue for Transgender Employees

By Michelle Wyrick

Following recent news reports about Target’s bathroom controversy and North Carolina’s bathroom law, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has issued a Fact Sheet outlining its views on bathroom access rights for transgender employees under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.  You can view the Fact Sheet here.

According to the EEOC, Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination also prohibits discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation.  Consequently, denying a transgender employee access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity constitutes sex discrimination.  An employer cannot require an employee to provide proof of surgery or any other medical procedure in order to use a particular restroom.  Nor can an employer avoid the requirement to provide equal access to a common restroom by restricting a transgender employee to a single-user restroom (although an employer can make a single-user restroom available to all employees who choose to use it).  The hostility or discomfort of other employees cannot overcome the right of a transgender employee to use the restroom corresponding with his or her gender identity.  Moreover, contrary state law is no defense.  Sorry, North Carolina.