United States: Connecticut Federal Court Expands Title VII Protections To Sexual Orientation

In Boutillier v. Hartford Public Schools, No. 3:13-CV-01303-WWE (November 17, 2016), a Connecticut district court held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on an individual's sexual orientation.

This decision is contrary to Second Circuit Court of Appeals precedent in Simonton v. Runyon, where the Court held that "Title VII does not proscribe discrimination because of sexual orientation." But Boutillier is not an isolated decision. Numerous courts across the country have considered sexual orientation to be a protected class under Title VII. Further, since Simonton, the Second Circuit has recognized "associational" race discrimination claims under Title VII. Under this doctrine, if an employer discriminates against an employee of one race because he or she is married to an individual of another race, the employee can file suit under Title VII alleging race discrimination. As Judge Eginton explained in Boutillier, "[i]f interracial association discrimination is held to be 'because of the employee's own race,' so ought sexual orientation discrimination be held to be because of the employee's own sex."

Facts

The plaintiff, Lisa Boutillier, and her spouse, Ginene Branch, were teachers employed by Hartford Public Schools. According to Boutillier, her troubles began during the 2006–2007 school year, when she and her spouse had a joint meeting with their principal to discuss classroom assignments. Boutillier alleges that it was at this point that her principal discovered that she was gay. This meeting ended with the principal asking the plaintiff and her wife to decide which one of them would transfer to a different school location, as their current school was overstaffed.

Boutillier alleges that after her wife chose to transfer, the principal and assistant principal began a campaign of discrimination and harassment. This included unfairly criticizing her in front of her colleagues, intentionally placing students with behavioral issues in her classroom, and threatening her with discipline and termination. She also alleged that the assistant principal made a "nasty face" when she saw Boutillier's wedding ring. Facts showed that her sexual orientation was common knowledge among her colleagues and supervisors.

Eventually, and following an unrelated medical leave, Boutillier was reassigned to a position requiring her to travel between classrooms. There was evidence that she had several arguments with her principal and vice principal; during one of these arguments, she collapsed due to stress and was taken to the hospital.

Boutillier filed a complaint of discrimination with the school district, which was investigated and found to be without merit. Following her complaint, she was assigned a new supervisor. However, shortly thereafter, Boutillier was informed that she was being reassigned to her previous supervisor, the principal whom the plaintiff had accused of discrimination. It was at that point that she resigned.

The Court's Decision

The plaintiff brought a claim against the school district alleging sexual orientation discrimination in violation of Title VII. Title VII protects individuals from job discrimination on the bases of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. For years, courts refused to hold that discrimination on the basis of a person's sexual orientation falls within the definition of sex-based discrimination under Title VII. These decisions refused to recognize sexuality and gender as one and the same.

The Boutillier court rejected this view, holding that "straightforward statutory interpretation and logic dictate that sexual orientation cannot be extricated from sex; the two are necessarily intertwined." The court further reasoned that "[p]resuming that an employer has discriminated against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's sexual orientation, that employer has necessarily considered both the sex of the partner and the sex of the individual."

The Boutillier court then addressed Simonton, in which the Second Circuit held "Title VII does not proscribe discrimination because of sexual orientation." Although the Supreme Court in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, as well as the Simonton court, recognized that Title VII protects against "sex-based stereotyping," it warned against "bootstrapping" stereotyping claims to encompass all sexual-orientation claims.

The Boutillier court declined to apply Simonton, citing instead to Holcomb v. Iona Coll., in which the Second Circuit more recently recognized "associational" race claims and determined that discriminating against a white male employee for marrying an African-American woman constitutes race discrimination under Title VII. As the Holcomb court explained, "[t]he reason is simple: where an employee is subjected to adverse action because an employer disapproves of interracial association, the employee suffers discrimination because of the employee's own race." According to the Boutillier court, Holcomb foreshadows the Second Circuit's rejection of Simonton—"The logic is inescapable: If interracial association discrimination is held to be 'because of the employee's own race,' so ought sexual orientation discrimination be held to be because of the employee's own sex." [Emphasis added.]

The court concluded its sexual orientation discrimination analysis by citing to Christiansen v. Omnicom Grp., Inc., where, relying on Simonton, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed a claim for non-conformity with gender stereotypes. In dismissing the claims, the Christiansen Court held that the plaintiff's claims were in reality for sexual orientation discrimination: "Simonton is still good law, and, as such, this Court is bound by its dictates. Consequently, the Court must consider whether the Plaintiff has pleaded a claim based on sexual stereotyping, separate and apart from the stereotyping inherent in his claim for discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Court finds that he has not."

Christiansen, which is currently on appeal, "may ultimately decide the fate of plaintiff's Title VII claims" according to the Boutillier Court.

Key Takeaways

Many states (including Connecticut) already have laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination. As a result, for many employers, the impact of Boutillier and the Christiansen appeal is largely academic.

With that said, these decisions show that there is a push to expand Title VII's protections to broader classes of individuals. Boutillier also warns that employers are not always protected by reliance on seemingly controlling case law (in this case, Simonton) because lower courts may consider other factors, such as the changing legal landscape. Best practice is for employers to continue to take measures to ensure that the legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for any adverse employment actions are well-documented so that they can effectively defend against claims of illegal discrimination and wrongful termination.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Proskauer Rose LLP
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Proskauer Rose LLP
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions