How Federal and State Law Differs on Protection of LGBT Workers

December 14, 2017
The Law Firm of J.W. Stafford

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LGBT workers in Maryland face a divided legal landscape when it comes to fighting employment discrimination. While Maryland law clearly recognizes discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity as illegal, federal law is more complicated. Title VII prohibits sex discrimination, but federal courts in Maryland do not recognize “sex” as covering either sexual orientation or gender identity.

Court Partially Rejects Maryland Teacher’s Federal Sex Discrimination Claim

Here is a recent example from Prince George’s County. The plaintiff worked as a teacher for the county’s public schools. She is also a lesbian, a fact that her former supervisors were aware of.

During her tenure, the plaintiff said she was subject to repeated harassment based on her sexual orientation. For example, she found a “homophobic slur” written on the chalkboard of her classroom, and students consistently “mocked her sexual orientation.” The plaintiff said she reported all of this harassment to the administration, but no action was taken. To the contrary, the plaintiff said the principal used stereotypical language in speaking about her, such as saying “her people” were aggressive and that she could not have female students in her classroom.

Ultimately, the plaintiff said she was disciplined and her employment terminated based on her sexual orientation as well as a disability that requires accommodation under the Americans With Disabilities Act. The plaintiff sued the school system in federal court, alleging both federal and state civil rights law violations. In a December 1 Memorandum Opinion, the judge hearing the case dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that her termination was unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII, noting that in the Fourth Circuit, which encompasses Maryland, sex discrimination does not include sexual orientation.

The plaintiff suggested the court follow decisions from federal courts outside of the Fourth Circuit, notably the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, which earlier this year decided discrimination based on sexual orientation was sex discrimination, but the judge declined the invitation. He did, however, hold that the plaintiff could pursue a claim for termination on the basis of her purported failure to conform to “gender stereotypes,” which is a form of federal sex discrimination recognized by the U.S. Supreme Court. Of course, the plaintiff can still pursue a sexual orientation discrimination claim under Maryland law.

Unfortunately, the plaintiff has to refile some of her claims, as the judge found that she did not meet certain pleading requirements. Specifically, she needed to “expressly plead” that her performance as a teacher was satisfactory and that animus toward her sexual orientation was the sole motivating factor in her termination. The judge said that once the plaintiff amends her complaint, the school system will have a chance to respond.

Get Help From a Baltimore Sex Discrimination Attorney

Navigating an employment discrimination lawsuit can be complicated. This is why it is critical to work with an experienced Baltimore sex discrimination attorney. At the Law Firm of J.W. Stafford, Attorney Jamaal “Jay” W. Stafford and his team can assist you with any type of claim involving sex discrimination, sexual harassment, or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.Contact us online or call us at 410-514-6099 to schedule a confidential consultation today.

(image courtesy of JJ Thompson)