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Articles Posted in Title VII

Most people are aware that the state and federal law can provide legal protection against sexual harassment and other discriminatory conduct to employees in the workplace. No job-related action, from recruitment and interviewing to compensation or discharge can be intentionally influenced or biased by an employee’s protected class, such as sex, gender, race, disability and others protected classes. But what if the individual is discriminated or harassed outside the employment?  Will the law provide any protection to an individual who is subjected to sexual harassment or other forms of discrimination in places outside the employment, such as government building, campaign organizations or within a police department?  The Appellate Division has issued a decision providing further guidance in situations in which a person is subjected to non-employment related discrimination in a case entitled Holmes v. Jersey City Police Department.

IMG_4199-300x169The case involves a transgender man, who was arrested for shoplifting and brought to the Jersey City Police Department for processing.  The individual, Mr. Holmes, presented his valid driver’s license indicating his gender as male at the time of the arrest. After fingerprinting revealed Holmes’ former name and gender, the officers used offensive and demeaning language to verbally harass Mr. Holmes for the duration of his time at the police station. The officers also moved Mr. Holmes from a male holding cell to a female holding cell despite Mr. Holmes’ identification as male.

The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination prohibits gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment in a place of public accommodation. A place of public accommodation is any place that is open to the public, including schools, businesses, restaurants, government buildings and healthcare facilities. Public place accommodation violations include the use of offensive language, the display of demeaning images such as pornography or inappropriate drawings, as well as unwanted touching and other forms of physical harassment. This harassment can be unlawful regardless of whether it’s performed by an employee of the public place or another patron. Places of public accommodation have legal obligations to ensure that they have policies and procedures in place to prevent and stops the harassment once it knows about it or should have known about it, and it may not retaliate against the individual who was harassed or complained about harassment.

On October 8, 2019, the United States Supreme Court will consider three companion cases concerning whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 guarantees gay and transgender employees across the nation protection from workplace discrimination. In two cases, the Court will decide whether sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination within the meaning of Title VII. In the third, the Court will decide whether Title VII prohibits discrimination against transgender people.  The Supreme Court’s decisions to both these questions will have dramatic impact on the rights (or lack thereof) of LGBT persons throughout the country.

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The outcomes of these cases will not only have a significant impact on employees’ rights nationwide, they will also have a significant impact on the individual employee-plaintiffs in each lawsuit. For some brief background, their stories are presented below:

(1)       Bostock v. Clayton County

On June 3, 2019, the United States Supreme Court released an important decision in the case Fort Bend County, Texas v. Davis (slip opinion available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/18pdf/18-525_m6hn.pdf) regarding claims of employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”). This decision promises to have widespread impact for many cases of employment discrimination filed in federal court, as it reevaluates and clarifies the role and impact of filing a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”). 

When an individual believes that they suffered employment discrimination in the workplace, federal law may provide a remedy. In such a case, when an individual seeks to vindicate their rights under federal employment discrimination law, Title VII requires that complainants first file what is known as a “charge” with the EEOC prior to pursuing a civil action in federal court. This procedure has been treated by many courts as a prerequisite to the federal court’s jurisdiction over the individual’s discrimination claim.

After the EEOC receives a charge of discrimination they notify the employer(s) named by the charging party and investigate the allegations. The EEOC’s goal is to evaluate the truth of the allegations, as well as to determine if the dispute can be resolved through informal means or, if that is not possible, whether the EEOC will bring a civil action on behalf of the charging party against the employer(s) in court. The EEOC has 180 days from the date the charge is filed to complete this process, after which (if neither of those courses is taken) they must provide a “right-to-sue” notice to the complainant. Once a complainant receives a right to sue notice, they may then pursue a civil action against their employer on their own behalf. 

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