As we observed in a recent post on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College extending Title VII to sexual orientation claims, the Supreme Court will probably have to resolve the disagreement among the federal circuit courts over whether the statutory language “because of…sex” should be interpreted to include “because of…sexual orientation.” And sure enough, on the heels of one Second Circuit panel decision late last month that refused to extend Title VII to cover sexual orientation, a different panel of that court again declined last week to reverse its own precedent, finding that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination does not extend to discrimination against lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees based purely on their sexual orientation.
In a landmark en banc decision rejecting its earlier panel ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit became the first federal appellate court to hold that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. While the employer in the case, Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, No. 15-1720 (7th Cir. April 4, 2017), has indicated that it does not intend to appeal the Seventh Circuit’s ruling, the conflict between the court’s holding and recent Second and Eleventh Circuit decisions makes it likely that this issue will reach the Supreme Court in the near future.
Today we offer our last installment in our 2016 Year in Review segment, which will cover the key labor & employment law developments from 2016 in California. Prior installments for the DC Metro Area, New York and Massachusetts are available here. In addition, please join us in NYC on April 6, 2017 for Mintz Levin’s Third Annual Employment Law Summit as we address some of the key labor & employment issues impacting employers in 2017. Register here.
In 2016 employers in California had to adjust to compensation and benefits related changes such as a new state minimum wage, a new method of calculating compensation for “piece-rate employees,” and expanded “kin care” benefits. The California Fair Pay Act, aimed at addressing gender wage discrimination also went into effect, modifying existing laws in a few key ways. The legislature also amended California’s Private Attorneys General Act to grant employers a few new ways to “cure” violations.
In 2017 employers should ensure they are complying with “all gender” bathroom requirements and that when making hiring decisions they do not rely on “juvenile offense history.” Employers should also be aware that there is a trend for cities and/or counties to further limit the kinds of information employers may consider in making hiring decisions. Also on the horizon is the probability that the legislature will revisit a new unpaid parental leave law that would impact smaller businesses.
In a previous post we discussed the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, in which a three-judge panel concluded that Title VII did not protect an employee from discrimination based on her sexual orientation. The court recently granted the employee’s petition for en banc review and agreed to rehear argument in the case before all of the court’s judges.
The Hively decision was notable for the court’s struggle to follow precedent declining to extend Title VII to sexual orientation claims while acknowledging that district court cases and a recent EEOC ruling that rejected such precedent had actually demonstrated superior legal reasoning. Many observers believe it is only a matter of time until a federal appeals court extends Title VII’s protections to sexual orientation claims. We will be monitoring these developments and will keep you apprised of whether the Seventh Circuit takes the opportunity to become the first U.S. circuit court to do so.
In a carefully reasoned but ultimately restrained opinion the Seventh Circuit held that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination in employment on the basis of sexual orientation. While declining to become the first circuit court to extend Title VII to sexual orientation claims, the court acknowledged at length the persuasive force of a recent EEOC administrative decision and similar district court rulings noting the logical fallacy of enforcing Title VII’s protections against discrimination on the basis of gender nonconformity while permitting sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace to continue.
We have co-authored an alert with our affiliate government relations consulting group, ML Strategies entitled, “Massachusetts State Legislature Takes Action on Major Employment Reform as Legislative Session Ends”, which addresses key legislation concerning pay equity, transgender anti-discrimination, non-compete agreement reform, credit checks reform and wage theft. The alert provides a review of the new laws and their implications for employers.
This week, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed its first lawsuits alleging sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII against employers in Pennsylvania and Maryland. In both cases, the EEOC seeks compensatory and punitive damages, as well as injunctive relief. The lawsuits are the latest step by the Commission to confirm its view that “sex” discrimination under Title VII encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation.