Federal Court Finds Sexual Orientation Discrimination Unlawful
Sexual orientation, unlike race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age and disability, is not a protected class under federal and Ohio civil rights laws. As such, barring certain municipal civil rights laws, no statute prevents discrimination against a person based upon his sexual orientation.
However, in the recent case of Beall v. London City School District Board of Education, the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Ohio ruled that homosexuals, as an “identifiable group,” were considered a protected class for purposes of a 14th Amendment equal protection discrimination claim against a government employer. While an equal protection claim can only be brought against a government agency, such as a school board, and not a private employer, the court’s analysis essentially mirrored the analysis used in discrimination actions against private employers under the rubric of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In Beall, the plaintiff, a lesbian, was given a one-year limited teaching contract by the London City School Board of Education. Beall’s annual teaching contract was subsequently renewed for the next two years. After receiving positive performance reviews, Beall was recommended by the principal to be rehired again under a three-year contract. Soon thereafter, Beall advised the principal that she would be starting a unit on Civil Rights/Civil Liberties in her Government class and that this unit would encompass several “controversial” topics, including affirmative action, women’s rights and other forms of discrimination. Subsequently, Beall showed a power point presentation to her classes concerning the “National Day of Silence,” a day where certain individuals remain absolutely silent in an effort to bring attention to what they perceive as sexual orientation discrimination. Beall remained silent during the presentation. The principal, upon discovering the presentation, expressed his concern. Soon thereafter, the school board declined to renew Beall’s contract.
Beall filed suit, arguing that the Board’s refusal was based upon her sexual orientation and that such action violated her equal protection rights under the 14th Amendment. Nevertheless, the court, using the same framework for analyzing claims of private employment discrimination under Title VII, ruled that the plaintiff was a member of a protected class and entitled to proceed to trial because, as a lesbian, she was “entitled to at least the same protection as any other identifiable group which is subject to disparate treatment by the state.”
The holding of this case obviously applies to government employers, but it may also have implications for private sector employers, such as contractors. While this decision does not make homosexuality a protected class under Title VII, it appears, based upon this and other recent decisions, that homosexuality is well on its way to becoming a protected class for private employment discrimination claims as well.
As this article shows, employment law can change in the blink of an eye. To stay on top of the game, call any of our employment attorneys with your questions.