A federal court in Richmond ruled last week that an apparently effeminate, but heterosexual, male who was harassed based on “gender stereotypes” could take his case to trial.
In refusing to grant the employer summary judgment, the trial court judge held that the complaint alleged harassment based on “failing to comply with accepted gender norms,” and not sexual orientation. The opinion noted that discrimination based on sexual orientation isn’t protected by federal law. In contrast, the protected class in this case is sex, not sexual orientation.
The issue comes on the heels of a growing trend of expanding federal workplace protection–the EEOC last year officially took the position that Title VII covered transgender employees and applicants.
The ruling highlighted the tension created by expansively reading Title VII, citing several other federal cases that grappled with this issue and noting that “it is often difficult to draw the distinction between discrimination on the basis of gender stereotyping and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.”