By now, you may have read about yesterday’s decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals that Title VII bars discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Connecticut is in that federal circuit (along with New York and Vermont). You can download the decision in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., here. (You’ve been warned though — there are 163 pages to the various opinions!)
The decision talks a lot of “associational discrimination” and other academic theories of proving a case under Title VII; that’s beyond the practical aspects of this blog for employers but practitioners in the area should review the decision as a whole.
So what IS the practical impact on Connecticut employers?
Not as much as you might first think.
Connecticut state law already bars employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation.
Indeed, last year, I wrote that the debate over whether federal law includes a bar against discrimination on sexual orientation was largely moot because of state law.
Yes, there are some slight differences; for example, Connecticut has an exception for “religious corporations” that I talked about in a prior post in 2014. How would that play out when compared with Title VII’s “ministerial exemption”.
The one change that can occur now is that employees can bring claims of sexual orientation discrimination to federal court instead of just state court.
But whether we will see that is an entirely different question. Historically, employees (and their attorneys) have preferred the looser rules of state court to bring claims of employment discrimination. It’s widely perceived that it is harder for employers to get motions for summary judgment granted in state court when compared with federal court.
This is also not the last we’ve heard about this issue; no doubt an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court will be coming sooner or later. Until then, employers in Connecticut should be aware now that the prohibitions against sexual orientation are now rooted in both federal and state law.