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Boss Assumed That Gay Employee Must Have AIDS


Boss Assumed That Gay Employee Must Have AIDS

Supervisor drew pictures that mocked man’s supposed effeminate mannerisms

Your boss seems uncomfortable that you’re in a same-sex marriage. He makes lewd comments about your “plumbing.” He jokes about whether you or your spouse will be the mommy if and when you have kids.

It makes your blood boil.

Beyond that, it may be unlawful. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination because of a person's sex. Whether that prohibition includes discrimination based on sexual orientation has been litigated extensively.

Let’s discuss a recent case that resulted in a settlement in favor of a man who claimed he was discriminated against due to his sexual orientation.

Didn’t conform to gender stereotypes

Matthew Christiansen, an employee at Omnicon Group International, sued his employer for workplace discrimination. He claimed he was treated unfairly due to his HIV–positive status and his failure to conform to gender stereotypes.

Christiansen alleges that his supervisor engaged in repeated harassment, including drawing sexually suggestive drawings targeting Christiansen’s supposed effeminate mannerisms and sexual orientation.

While Christiansen had not disclosed that he was HIV-positive, Christiansen's supervisor allegedly told other employees that Christiansen “was effeminate and gay so he must have AIDS.”

Initially Christiansen’s case was thrown out. The court held that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Christiansen appealed.

However, an appeals court allowed the case to proceed. In its opinion, the court referred to a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that stated that discrimination rooted in sex stereotyping or gender stereotyping constitutes sex discrimination.

In that ruling, the court found that sexual-orientation discrimination is discrimination because of sex because such discrimination is rooted in gender stereotypes, such as the idea that men should be exclusively attracted to women and women should be exclusively attracted to men.

For that reason, the court found that gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals do not have less protection against gender stereotype discrimination than heterosexual individuals.

Rather than continue to fight the case, the company agreed to settle.

What it means to you

Case law pertaining to issues around gender identity and gender stereotypes is still evolving. Because few federal laws exist that pertain directly to these issues, it is currently largely left to the judicial system to decide how existing discrimination laws may or may not apply.

If you believe you have been the victim of sexual orientation discrimination, you should consult an attorney who is experienced in pursuing these types of claims.

Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.

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