Eleventh Circuit: Title VII Does Not Provide a Cause of Action for Workplace Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation
On March 10, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit issued an opinion in Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, et al., holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”) does not provide a cause of action for workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The plaintiff, Jameka K. Evans, was a security officer at Georgia Regional Hospital. Evans claimed she experienced harassment and a hostile work environment because her supervisors and coworkers perceived her as gay and not in conformity with the gender stereotype for women. The District Court dismissed Evans’ claims with prejudice, finding that Evans’ gender non-conformity claim was merely a sexual orientation claim, and that there was no cause of action for sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII.
On appeal, in a 2-1 opinion¹, the Eleventh Circuit first addressed Evans’ claim that she was discriminated against for failing to conform to gender stereotypes. The court held that while discrimination based on gender non-conformity is actionable under Title VII, Evans failed to state a claim for such an action because her complaint failed to provide facts sufficient to plausibly suggest that her gender non-conformity resulted in an adverse employment action. Although the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the District Court’s dismissal, it vacated the dismissal with prejudice on this issue, meaning that Evans will be permitted to filed an amended complaint on her gender non-conformity discrimination claim.
The Eleventh Circuit then addressed Evans’ claim that the defendant violated Title VII by discriminating against her based on her sexual orientation. In rejecting the legal viability of this claim, the majority opinion cited Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., where the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that discrimination based upon sexual orientation was not actionable under Title VII. 597 F.2d 936, 938 (5th Cir. 1979).² The majority cited decisions from nine other federal Circuit Courts that were in accord with Blum.³
Dissenting, Circuit Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum noted that “it is utter fiction to suggest that [Evans] was not discriminated against for failing to comport with her employer’s stereotyped view of women.” Judge Rosenbaum cited Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins 4, where the Supreme Court held that gender stereotype discrimination is actionable under Title VII. Judge Rosenbaum stated that the majority opinion would allow “an employer to discriminate against a woman solely because she is a lesbian and does not fulfill the employer’s version of what a woman should be,” which “directly conflicts with” the holding in Price Waterhouse. Put another way, Judge Rosenbaum’s dissent views sexual orientation discrimination as a form of gender stereotype discrimination, which is actionable under Title VII pursuant to Supreme Court precedent.
Under Eleventh Circuit rules, Evans has 21 days from the date of the court’s opinion to file a petition for a rehearing en banc. CCLB will continue to monitor developments and update this alert as appropriate.
The attorneys at CCLB represent clients of all types and sizes – particularly in the healthcare industry – in connection with employment-related matters, including those brought under Title VII and similar employment discrimination statutes. For any questions, or if we can be of any assistance with such a matter, please contact us at (404) 262-6505 or email@example.com.
- Perhaps important to note is that one of the two judges in the majority was a District Court Judge, sitting by designation.
- In Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206, 1209 (11th Cir. 1981), the Eleventh Circuit adopted as binding precedent all decisions of the former Fifth Circuit prior to September 30, 1981.
- The majority opinion cites decisions from every circuit other than the D.C. Circuit.
- 490 U.S. 228 (1989).