Two female employees worked together for years and neither had received any complaints pertaining to their work. A colleague who is also female allegedly resented these two female co-workers because the colleague had applied for (and presumably been denied) the positions the others held. The disgruntled colleague began contacting customers who had been serviced by these two co-workers and encouraged them to register complaints against them. The disgruntled colleague also allegedly had a friend begin berating the two women on the disgruntled co-worker’s behalf in Facebook posts and other internet posts.
The two female employees sued their employer, for gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and alleged that they were harassed because of their gender and perceived sexual orientation. Winstead v. Lafayette County Bd. of County Comm'rs, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80036 (N.D. Fla. June 20, 2016).
The focus for this newsletter pertains to the employer’s argument that the Title VII claim in the lawsuit should be dismissed with prejudice because actual—and by extension perceived—sexual orientation is not a protected classification under Title VII. The District Court for the Northern District of Florida rejected the employer’s Motion to Dismiss.
The District Court noted that the law is currently in a state of flux and evolving alongside the nation’s understanding of sexual orientation. This recent decision illustrates how some courts are revisiting whether claims of sexual orientation discrimination are recognized under Title VII. Some local ordinances specifically provide protection against sexual orientation discrimination, but this case demonstrates how some federal courts are permitting claims that are brought under Title VII, not a local ordinance, to proceed through the courts, even though the wording of the actual federal statute does not specifically give Title VII protection to those discriminated because of their sexual orientation.
Given that some courts have found sexual orientation to be protected under Title VII, while other courts have found that it was not protected, we expect that there will be more guidance from the Eleventh Circuit and possibly the United States Supreme Court in the future.
If you own a Florida business and you have questions about sex discrimination based on LGBT status or sexual orientation, you may email the Law Office of David Miklas, P.A. for a consultation or you can call David Miklas at 1-772-465-5111 to discuss sexual orientation discrimination in Florida.
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