Monday, April 22, 2019

Does Title VII protect heterosexuals from discrimination?

So meet, ROBERTa! Shopping in the women’s department for a swimsuit at the BR Target. For all of you people that say you don’t care what bathroom it’s using, you’re full of shit!! Let this try to walk in the women’s bathroom while my daughters are in there!! #hellwillfreezeoverfirst

Suppose you own a company, and one of your employees posts this rant on her personal Facebook page. Further suppose that in addition to owning the company, you are also a lesbian, and take offense to the employee's views. If you discipline the employee for her Facebook post, and later fire the employee after she complains about the discipline, can the employee sue for retaliation under Title VII? In other words, does Title VII protect heterosexuals from discrimination in reaction to anti-LGBTQ speech?

In O'Daniel v. Industrial Service Solutions, the 5th Circuit said no.

The case put the plaintiff, unabashedly and vocally anti-LGBTQ (as expressed in the at-issue Facebook post), in the position of arguing that Title VII protects against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Court held that under its own precedent, O'Daniel could not move forward on her claim.

O'Daniel claims in essence that she was retaliated against because she "opposed" discrimination perpetrated against her on the basis of her heterosexual orientation.… Title VII in plain terms does not cover "sexual orientation." … Because the law in this circuit is clear, we cannot accept O'Daniel’s … suggestions that this panel either overrule the precedents or assume arguendo that the "trend" has upended them.

Thus, because the 5th Circuit does not recognize sexual orientation as class Title VII protects, and employee's complaints about her employer discriminating against her because she is heterosexual could not support a retaliation claim: "Title VII protects an employee only from retaliation for complaining about the types of discrimination it prohibits."

Two points to make about this opinion.

First, if Title VII equates LGBTQ discrimination to "sex" discrimination (as I, like many other courts and the EEOC, believe it does), then logic says that it must also protect heterosexuals from discrimination at the hands of the LGBTQ community because of their sexual orientation. Any other result is logically inconsistent.

Secondly, this employee was not fired because she complained about discrimination. She was fired because she exhibited extremely poor judgment through her Facebook rant. As the concurring opinion succinctly and correctly states: "Simply put, Title VII does not grant employees the right to make online rants about gender identity with impunity." If the employee ranted against interracial marriage, and the company's African-American owner fired her, would anyone think she has a valid claim? This case is no different. The law protects the employee from discrimination and retaliation, but it does not protect the employee's right to express bigoted views, on her personal Facebook page or otherwise.

* Photo by Jim Wilson on Unsplash