New York: Southern District of NY Allows Sexual Orientation Discrimination Claim to Proceed Under Title VII

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May 3, 2017

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On May 3, 2017, a federal court in the southern district of New York denied a motion to dismiss an ex-employee’s sexual orientation discrimination and retaliation claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  This decision is unusual in that it runs counter to long-running precedent established in the Second Circuit—governing Connecticut, New York, and Vermont—which previously stated that sex discrimination, including gender stereotyping, under Title VII does not include sexual orientation discrimination.

In Philpott v. State of New York, a former employee of the SUNY College of Optometry, alleged that he was subject to long-term harassment and discrimination by his supervisor and co-workers based on his sexual orientation.  When Philpott complained about this treatment, his employment was terminated.  Philpott ultimately filed suit in federal court, alleging hostile work environment, sex discrimination, and retaliation claims under Title VII based on his sexual orientation.

Although sexual orientation discrimination is prohibited in the state of New York and New York City, Title VII does not explicitly prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.  However, this interpretation may be shifting, as indicated by the recent Seventh Circuit decision recognizing sexual orientation as a federally protected class under Title VII.  In deference to what seems to be an evolving area of law, the court hearing Philpott stated that “current law is in flux” and allowed the plaintiff’s Title VII claims to move forward.  Moreover, although the Philpott ruling is not binding on the Second Circuit, similar cases are moving up through the circuit courts and may ultimately reach the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Disclaimer: This document is designed to provide general information and guidance concerning employment-related issues. It is presented with the understanding that ManagEase is not engaged in rendering any legal opinions. If a legal opinion is needed, please contact the services of your own legal adviser.

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