Over the last week or so, there have been two prominent Circuit Court decisions addressing whether Title VII (the federal law prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion and national origin) can be interpreted to also protect employees from being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
The Second Circuit, which covers Connecticut, basically said no in a decision last week in Christiansen v. Omnicom Group. The court did open the door a bit to a claim that an employee was discriminated against because of sex stereotyping.
Yesterday, the Seventh Circuit created the first split at the appellate level, finding that Title VII does cover such claims in the Hivley v. Ivy Tech Community College case. Jon Hyman, of the Ohio Employer’s Law Blog, does a good job addressing the historic nature of the case here.
Back in 2016, I wrote that it was somewhat disappointing that we were still having these battles at the federal level, considering that Connecticut already had state laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. “Those who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender frankly deserve better, in my view. They deserve their own federal law giving them the workplace protections that Connecticut has given. Until then, the battles over the scope of Title VII will continue.”
Indeed, the battles are now going to get bigger. One or more of these cases are now likely to get heard at the U.S. Supreme Court level where it is far from certain whether Title VII can really be read so broadly.
Of course, Congress could end these debates once and for all by passing a bill prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as I discussed way back in 2008.
But unfortunately, we seem to be no closer to passage of a bill than we were a decade ago.
Connecticut employers should largely ignore the press reports about Title VII and instead focus on their obligations to comply with state law. Eventually the federal courts will work these issues out, but the issue is mainly moot in Connecticut.