US federal judge expands sex discrimination laws to also cover orientation-based discrimination

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A US federal judge has ruled that orientation-based discrimination in the workplace is already banned under currently existing sex discrimination laws.

The case was brought by Peter TerVeer, who is suing his supervisor, John Mech, and his workplace, the Library of Congress, because of the “hostile environment in which [Mech] imposed his religion and sexual stereotypes.”

US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled that discrimination based on the perception that someone does not conform to gender stereotypes is prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits workplace discrimination due to biological sex.

In a preliminary ruling that was issued on March 31, Kollar-Kotelly noted, “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.”

She continued, “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.

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

The preliminary ruling also noted that because Mech allegedly forced his religious beliefs onto TerVeer as well, there may also be grounds for a legal complaint of religious discrimination.

The document lists several examples of such violations, such as the accusation that “at the beginning of almost every work-related conversation [with Plaintiff], Mech would engage in a religious lecture to the point where it became clear that Mech was targeting [Plaintiff] by imposing his conservative Catholic beliefs on [Plaintiff] throughout the workday.”

Another incident appeared to be an indirect threat—shortly after Mech’s daughter learned that TerVeer is gay, in August 2009, “Plaintiff received an email from Mech mentioning his daughter and containing photographs of assault weapons along with the tagline ‘Diversity: Let’s Celebrate It.’”

In 2012, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission set a precedent with a landmark ruling that declared Title VII does not apply only to discrimination, but its protections instead “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.”

The extension of sex discrimination laws to also cover gender identity and presentation have enabled transgender people in several cases to find relief, but TerVeer’s case is the first in which a ruling was made that sexual orientation is also covered.

429Magazine

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