Sex Stereotyping Discrimination Claims in the Second Circuit on Hold

In Lorber v. Lew, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21189, *14-15 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 13, 2017), plaintiff — an openly gay IRS employee — filed suit against the former Secretary of the Treasury alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII based on his gender.  Among other things, plaintiff alleged that he had been passed over for promotions, excluded from meetings, and given poor performance reviews for discriminatory and retaliatory reasons.  Although the Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss plaintiff’s hostile work environment claim, the court refused to dismiss plaintiff’s claim for discrimination under Title VII for nonconformity with male sex stereotypes.

Significantly, although plaintiff admitted (in response to the defendants’ motion to dismiss) that rulings from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals foreclose Title VII claims based exclusively on sexual orientation discrimination, the court in Lorber noted that “the Second Circuit has recently held oral argument in two cases that present the issue of whether Title VII protects against sexual orientation discrimination. See Zarda v. Altitude Express, No. 15-3775 (2d Cir. argued Jan. 5, 2017); Christiansen v. Omnicom Group, Inc., et al., No. 16-748 (2d Cir. argued Jan. 20, 2017).”  Thus, the court stayed adjudication of the plaintiff’s sex stereotyping claim pending the Second Circuit’s rulings.

While timing may not be “everything,” it certainly can make a huge difference for the parties.  In Lorber, plaintiff’s Title VII claim survived solely on the fact that the determinative legal issues are expected to be resolved shortly by the Second Circuit.

Breaking EPL News!

On February 22, 2017, the United States Departments of Education and of Justice jointly issued a guidance letter effectively withdrawing protections under Title IX for transgender students related to school bathroom use.  Notwithstanding the new administration’s “guidance,” on February 27, 2017, in Juliet Evancho, et al. v. Pine Richland School District, et al., the Honorable Mark Hornak of the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania entered a preliminary injunction enjoining the school district from enforcing any policy, practice, or custom preventing transgender students in that school from using the bathrooms consistent with their gender identities.  Notably, the court did address, in detail, the recently issued guidance letter — and was forced to conclude that the law with respect to Title IX and transgender rights is “so clouded with uncertainty that this Court is not in a position to conclude which party in this case has the likelihood of success on the merits of that statutory claim.”  However, the court was able to conclude that the plaintiffs had established   a likelihood of success on the merits with respect to their claim that the district’s policy “does not afford them equal protection of the law as guaranteed under the Fourteen Amendment” – thus satisfying the requirements for entry of a preliminary injunction.