Legal

Differences of Opinion Show Why We Need ENDA

By Jon Hyman

Apr. 8, 2014

In response to last Tuesday’s post on an Ohio case refusing to protect “sexual orientation” under Ohio’s sex-discrimination laws, Equal Employment Opportunities Commission Commissioner (and Twitter friend) Chai Feldblum recommended that I check out a recent decision from the District of Columbia, Terveer v. Billington.

In that case, Peter Terveer, a Library of Congress employee, sued his supervisor for sex discrimination, alleging that the supervisor had created “a hostile environment” by subjecting him to a slew of anti-gay comments.

The employer argued for the dismissal of Terveer’s complaint, since Title VII does not include protections against sexual-orientation discrimination. The court disagreed, and permitted Terveer’s case to proceed under Title VII’s protections from sex discrimination and religious discrimination:

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.… Plaintiff has alleged that Defendant denied him promotions and created a hostile work environment because of Plaintiff’s nonconformity with male sex stereotypes.…

Title VII seeks to protect employees not only from discrimination on the basis of their religious beliefs, but also from forced religious conformity or adverse treatment because they do “not hold or follow [their] employer’s religious beliefs.” … [P]laintiffs state a claim of religious discrimination in situations where employers have fired or otherwise punished an employee because the employee’s personal activities or status—for example, divorcing or having an extramarital affair—failed to conform to the employer’s religious beliefs.… The Court sees no reason to create an exception to these cases for employees who are targeted for religious harassment due to their status as a homosexual individual.

This article at Slate.com argues that Terveer shows that anti-gay job discrimination is already illegal. To the contrary, the more prudent conclusion is that Terveer, when contrasted against Burns v. The Ohio St. Univ. College of Veterinary Medicine (the Ohio case I discussed last Tuesday), demonstrates that different courts can, and do, reach different conclusions on this issue. Instead of showing that anti-gay discrimination is already illegal, these cases illustrate the need to amend Title VII to make it absolutely clear that sexual-orientation discrimination is not only abhorrent, but is also illegal.

Jon Hyman is a partner in the Employment & Labor practice at Wickens Herzer Panza. Contact Hyman at JHyman@Wickenslaw.com.

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