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.

The American Bar Association (ABA) holds its Midyear Meeting later this week in Vancouver (Canada!) and the House of Delegates is scheduled to debate several resolutions of interest to employers and employment lawyers.

As readers of this blog, you happen to “know” the Connecticut State Delegate (me!), coordinating a delegation of several esteemed lawyers from Connecticut.

Thus, if you have any questions or concerns about the resolutions, please e-mail me this week at

Or feel free to add a comment below.

You can review all the resolutions here but the few that I would pay attention to are as follows:

  • Resolution 116A supports an interpretation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that defines sex discrimination by covered employers to include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Resolution 117 urges courts to recognize that service in the United States Armed Forces should not be restricted and that individuals should not be discriminated against on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • Resolution 302 tackles the wave of sexual harassment allegations that have been making headlines every day.  In doing so, it would urge “all employers, and specifically all employers in the legal profession, to adopt and enforce policies and procedures that prohibit, prevent, and promptly redress harassment and retaliation based on sex (including gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation) and the intersection of sex and other protected classes.”  The resolution contains a list of suggestions for employers to follow.

The ABA’s resolutions set the policies for the organization to follow.  Thus, the debates that flow from these are more than just theoretical, they help set the path for the ABA to follow. Attorneys should take note and follow the goings on. I’ll have an update for you in an upcoming blog post as well.

seminarI still remain amazed at the sold-out crowd we had at last week’s Labor & Employment Law seminar.  Well over 250 people registered for the program and I kind of wanted to whisper to people: “You know this is just a LEGAL seminar, right?”

But no matter. Employment law issues are as popular as ever and we had great feedback from the crowd.

One of the topics we handled was one suggested by several attendees at last year’s seminar: Transgender Issues in the Workplace.  I’ve talked about this before in some prior posts here and here.

Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the areas we covered was restroom access.  This seems to be one area that employers continue to grapple with. Indeed, as I noted last year in a post on the topic, the issue “that seems to get the most press is restroom access.”

Just a day after our seminar, the U.S. Supreme Court accepted a case on this very topic — meaning we are likely to get some court guidance at last.  Although the case involves student access to bathrooms, many are hoping that the decision provides some clarity to employers on the issue as well.

But as SCOTUSBlog notes, the court is tackling the issue from more of a technical perspective than anything else:

The Supreme Court added five new cases to its docket this afternoon. Among the new grants was Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., the case of a transgender student who identifies as a boy and wants to be allowed to use the boys’ bathroom at his Virginia high school.

Although the controversy over the school board’s policy requiring students to use the restrooms and locker rooms that match the gender that they were assigned at birth instantly became the highest-profile case of the court’s term so far, the dispute actually centers on more technical (and, some would say, rather dry) legal issues. In this case, the district court ruled against G.G., relying on a 1975 regulation that allows schools to provide “separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex,” as long as those facilities are comparable to those provided to the opposite sex. But, in January 2015, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights issued an opinion letter stating that, if schools separate students in restrooms and locker rooms on the basis of their sex, a “school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.” In light of the 2015 letter, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit reversed and ruled for G.G. It relied on the Supreme Court’s 1997 decision in Auer v. Robbins, which held that courts generally should defer to an agency’s interpretation of its own regulation.

Still, to see issues of gender identity being heard at the U.S. Supreme Court shows how far this issue has come in a relatively short period of time.

Any decision from the court, however, is likely to have a muted impact in Connecticut. Connecticut already protects against discrimination on the basis of gender identity and expression, in contrast to federal law which isn’t as explicit.

At the seminar, one of my law partners, Kevin Roy, suggested that employers who feel flummoxed by the legal rules, should approach the issue from the perspective of trying to treat employees with “dignity and respect”.  That may be the simplest and easiest way to tackle a still-evolving issue.

restrm1Last fall, I raised the issue of bathroom access for employees that corresponds with their gender identity.

The issue, however, that seems to get the most press is restroom access.

Indeed, we’re now getting federal guidance on how to deal with the issue of restroom access. That remains one of the bigger issues (a proposition up on a Houston ballot turned into an ugly campaign of “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms”) but it doesn’t seem again to translate to claims filed.

What’s happened since then? Well, we’ve seen it become a topic on the presidential campaign trail and in North Carolina.

But we’ve also seen the EEOC say: Wait a minute. Federal law has something to say on this too.

Yesterday, the EEOC went a step further and issued a new fact sheet reminding employers that even a contrary state law isn’t a defense.

In Macy v. Dep’t of Justice, EEOC Appeal No. 0120120821, 2012 WL 1435995 (Apr. 12, 2012), the EEOC ruled that discrimination based on transgender status is sex discrimination in violation of Title VII, and in Lusardi v. Dep’t of the Army, EEOC Appeal No. 0120133395, 2015 WL 1607756 (Mar. 27, 2015), the EEOC held that:

  • denying an employee equal access to a common restroom corresponding to the employee’s gender identity is sex discrimination;
  • an employer cannot condition this right on the employee undergoing or providing proof of surgery or any other medical procedure; and,
  • an employer cannot avoid the requirement to provide equal access to a common restroom by restricting a transgender employee to a single-user restroom instead (though the employer can make a single-user restroom available to all employees who might choose to use it).

Contrary state law is not a defense under Title VII. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-7.  In G. ex rel. Grimm v. Gloucester Cty. Sch. Bd., — F.3d –, 2016 WL 1567467 (4th Cir. 2016), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit reached a similar conclusion by deferring to the Department of Education’s position that the prohibition against sex discrimination under Title IX requires educational institutions to give transgender students restroom and locker access consistent with their gender identity.

Gender-based stereotypes, perceptions, or comfort level must not interfere with the ability of any employee to work free from discrimination, including harassment. As the Commission observed in Lusardi:  “[S]upervisory or co-worker confusion or anxiety cannot justify discriminatory terms and conditions of employment.  Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sex whether motivated by hostility, by a desire to protect people of a certain gender, by gender stereotypes, or by the desire to accommodate other people’s prejudices or discomfort.”

Connecticut is one of the few states that already prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Thus, the EEOC’s statement should be seen as one in support of the interpretation in Connecticut.

For employers, keep it simple: Let employees use the bathroom that corresponds to the employee’s gender identity.  But it can also mean turning single-occupant bathrooms into gender-neutral ones too.  You can look at the OSHA guidance on this issue for more best practice tips.  If any employee complains, well, that’s not enough of a reason to deny access.

gavelIn an decision of first impression in Connecticut, a federal court on Friday ruled that a transgender discrimination claim based on a failure to hire can proceed under both Title VII and Connecticut’s counterpart, CFEPA.

While the groundbreaking decision in Fabian v. Hospital of Central Connecticut (download here)  is sure to be the subject of discussion, as the court notes, Connecticut has — in the interim — passed a state law explicitly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Thus, for a few years now, Connecticut has already explicitly prohibited transgender discrimination under state law. (The case was based on facts that occurred before passage of the state’s anti-discrimination law.)

But the decision obviously goes further than that and takes up the logic advanced by the EEOC and others of late — namely that Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination “because of…sex” should be read to include transgender discrimination.  The court’s opinion should be mandatory reading not only in the state, but for practitioners nationwide faced with similar claims.

The decision addresses the notion of gender-stereotyping discrimination noting that such discrimination is sex discrimination “per se”.  In the court’s view, the Supreme Court’s decision years ago in Price Waterhouse has led to a “significant shift in the direction of decisions examining alleged discrimination on the basis of transgender identity”.

In doing so, the court notes the split in the circuits that has been developing, even though the Second Circuit hasn’t truly spoken yet on the issue:

In sum, discrimination on the basis of transgender identity is now recognized as discrimination “because of sex” in the Ninth Circuit (as Schwenk recognized the abrogation of Holloway), the Sixth Circuit (as recognized in Smith), and in the Eleventh Circuit (as recognized in Glenn); and the E.E.O.C. (in Macy) and has agreed with that authority.  Discrimination on the basis of transgender identity is regarded as not constituting discrimination “because of sex” in the Tenth Circuit (under Etsitty). The continued vitality the pre–Price Waterhouse decisions in the Seventh and Eighth Circuits (Ulane II & Sommers, respectively)  is unclear.

Judge Underhill, who penned the decision, then goes on to discuss the language of “because of…sex” found in the statute itself.  He notes that:

discrimination on the basis of gender stereotypes, or on the basis of being transgender, or intersex, or sexually indeterminate, constitutes  discrimination on the basis of the properties or characteristics typically manifested in sum as male and female — and that discrimination is literally discrimination “because of sex.”

On the basis of the plain language of the statute, and especially in light of the interpretation of that language evident in Price Waterhouse’s acknowledgement that gender-stereotyping discrimination is discrimination “because of sex,” I conclude that discrimination on the basis of transgender identity is cognizable under Title VII.

For employers in Connecticut, this decision is likely to be closely followed by other federal courts in Connecticut. Judge Underhill is well-regarded and until this decision gets reviewed by the Second Circuit, it’s hard to see how other judges in Connecticut will decline to follow it.

In other words, employers in Connecticut should be alert that a plaintiff may make a gender identity claim under Title VII in Connecticut.

But, as I noted at the top, this decision’s impact in Connecticut may be more muted because Connecticut has now explicitly protected gender identity in the state’s anti-discrimination statutes.

Nevertheless, the decision is an important one to read in the field of gender identity claims.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking before the Connecticut Bar Association’s LGBT Section regarding the status of transgender claims along with CHRO Staff Attorney Alix Simonetti.  My thanks to the section for the invitation.  It didn’t hurt that it was held at the Hartford Flavor Company, either.

The talk was mainly informal but it was a lively discussion of some of the critical components of the law over the last few years.

Back in 2011 (seems so long ago, right?), the Connecticut General Assembly passed a wide-ranging bill protecting gender identity and expression.  The impact of the law was debated back then. Would it be significant? Would it lead to an increase in claims?

Well, the answer to the first question is yes, it’s been significant because the issue of transgender discrimination has moved ever more into the mainstream with Caitlyn Jenner making headlines and shows like “Transparent” receiving critical acclaim.  Connecticut looks downright ahead of its time.

But the claims haven’t really appeared.

There have been just 15 or so gender-identity in employment discrimination claims filed with the state agency (CHRO) since the law’s inception.

Why? The reasons can be debated — perhaps fear, lack of awareness, an improving economy? — but the claims represent just a tiny fraction of the 7500+ claims filed over that time.

The issue, however, that seems to get the most press is restroom access.

Indeed, we’re now getting federal guidance on how to deal with the issue of restroom access. That remains one of the bigger issues (a proposition up on a Houston ballot turned into an ugly campaign of “No Men in Women’s Bathrooms”) but it doesn’t seem again to translate to claims filed.

OSHA’s guidance over the summer suggests keeping it simple: Employees should have access to the restroom that corresponds to his or her gender identity. Period. If other employees complain, well, that’s not a good enough reason to deny access to the transgendered employee.

But there are other best practices, such as making single-occupant bathrooms gender-neutral (think family restrooms in stadiums and airports) that are suggested as well.

Some employers may not have had to address the issue yet. But being aware of the issues ahead of time — and figuring out how you will tackle them — is something that should be on the radar for 2016.

oedThe rapid pace of the country’s openness to discuss issues of gender identity (and no, this isn’t going to be an article about Caitlyn Jenner) has actually led to a rise in the use of words to describe situations that you may not have thought of before.

Recently I came across the term “cisgender male” in a document where someone was asked the “gender” question.  Now, if you had heard of the term before, kudos.

But I suspect, based on my discussion with a few colleagues and friends, that there are still many of you that are unfamiliar with the term.  My guess is that you’re going to hear more about it and that it will trickle into HR departments — if it hasn’t already.

“Cisgender” is a term that has recently been approved by the Oxford English Dictionary. The term means “designating a person whose sense of personal identity matches their gender at birth.”  Thus, as Time said, “a baby designated male in the delivery room who grows up to identify as a man is cisgender.”

Why is the term useful to some? Because it provides an opposite and complimentary word to “transgender”.

According to news articles, the term has actually been in use for some time in academic circles.  And if you’ve been on Facebook, the term was added last year when the social network re-did its gender terminology.

Now, not everyone is a fan of the word. In a Slate post on the word, it notes that “there has been some pushback against the label and its connotations of privilege from certain feminists and members of the LGBTQ community. Even some linguists doubt the term’s longevity and usefulness.”

But it goes to say that “including the word forces us to reconsider ideas of default gender identities—the idea that everyone is considered properly aligned with their assigned gender until they say otherwise.”

The corporate world is slowly adapting to this change as well. Take a look at this Powerpoint from CIGNA from 2014 about “Gender Transition in the Workplace”, which highlights the use of the term.

And, with regard to transgender issues, we’re even seeing OSHA chiming in on bathroom use for transgender employees. 

Google Trends also shows an uptick on the use of the word as well.

Back in 2011, Connecticut added “gender identity or expression” as a protected category under the state’s anti-discrimination laws.  It’s fair to say then that change is happening as we speak.  It’s not just the legal issues but the language itself. Human resource departments would be wise to stay up with the latest.

The U.S. Supreme Court this morning came out with two controversial decisions that will impact employers in Connecticut.

The first one, Harris v. Quinn, dealt with whether non-union public employees could be forced to pay union dues.  The court issued a relatively narrow holding, ruling that “partial” public employees could not be required to do so.  In doing so, it made a distinction with “full-fledged” public employees.

The second one, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, dealt with whether for-profit employers could be required to provide contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The court again issued a (relatively) narrow holding, ruling that closely-held corporations (where more than 50% of stock is held by 5 or fewer individuals) can opt out of the contraceptive coverage for religious reasons.

There is going to be lots of coverage this week on the impact of these decisions generally, but I thought I would touch on a few thoughts for Connecticut employers.

First, employers shouldn’t overread the decisions. While these decisions may lay the groundwork for broader decisions from the court in the future, these decisions aren’t as broad as some reports suggest.

Second, a very interesting issue is developing about whether employers could use this decision to discrimination against employees on things like race, gender or sexual orientation based on their religious beliefs. The majority opinion takes pains to discount that notion:

The principal dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. … Our decision today provides no such shield. The Government has a compelling interest inproviding an equal opportunity to participate in the workforce without regard to race, and prohibitions on racialdiscrimination are precisely tailored to achieve that critical goal.

Third, the decision also raises the question of the impact on state anti-discrimination laws. For sexual orientation and gender identity claims, “religious corporations” are given a specific exclusion of coverage.  Could a company like Hobby Lobby now be considered a “religious corporation” under state law? Or can it claim some other type of exemption given that Connecticut is already excluding some employers? And what is the impact of this decision on the other types of anti-discrimination laws that Connecticut has set up that are much broader than federal law?

It is this last set of questions that I think is most intriguing and necessitate some further review.

Connecticut law also prohibits discrimination against employees because of theirreligious beliefs too. How will the Hobby Lobby decision impact that aspect as well?

Today’s opinions will no doubt have an impact on employers. The real question that remains to be seen in the upcoming months and years is, “How Much?”

I have plenty of “guilty pleasures” when it comes to television watching.  Dancing with the Stars isn’t one of them.

Chaz Bono - Poster Child?

(Though considering how my Yankees did last night, I probably should’ve just changed the channel to watch DWTS instead).

But DWTS has a knack for making headlines (Bristol Palin, anyone?) and this season is no different.

Chaz Bono, the child of Sonny Bono and Cher, has been making headlines though for his appearance on the show.  H Chaz — formerly known as Chastity and who underwent sex reassignment surgery — is being credited by some as raising the issue of gender identity to the forefront in the United States.

His appearance comes at a fortuitous time, at least in Connecticut when it comes to gender identity issues.  A new gender identity anti-discrimination law went into effect over the weekend and employers need to be aware of the implications of this law in the workplace.  (I’ve previously recapped the law here.)

An article in this week’s Connecticut Law Tribune has many attorneys opining on what the impact will be of this new law.

Perhaps the only thing that all the attorneys agreed upon is that courts may be asked to resolve the ambiguities present.

With the enactment of Connecticut’s new law, however, some questions are bound to surface, lawyers agree. “That’s why courts exist,” said [Joshua] Hawks-Ladds, of Pullman & Comley. “Having litigated discrimination cases for over 20 years now, I can tell you these types of laws often result in litigation over subtle definitions and meanings.”

For employers, that means that these issues — including enforcement of dress codes and use of bathrooms — will need to be carefully considered as the parameters are defined.


Employers in Connecticut should be familiar with the “Discrimination is Illegal” poster put out by the CHRO that should put up on bulletin boards in a common area.

With new laws taking effect, October 1, 2011, the agency has released a new poster for printout and posting. The most significant change to the poster is the addition of “gender identity” to the list of protected characteristics.  The poster is also available in Spanish.

Note: Numerous commercial companies have products that combine the workplace posters into one big sheet.  That may work for some employers (and removes the guesswork), but you can also use the posters from the state for free.