A June 22, 2017 article on Huffingtonpost.com reported that the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) exercised its right to bring a lawsuit against an employer it believes has violated federal civil rights laws. In response to a charge it received from Danielle Feola, a former employee of Applebee’s in Hawthorne, New York, the EEOC conducted an investigation. The agency determined that there was enough evidence to sue Apple Metro, Inc. Apple Metro, Inc. operates several Applebee’s franchises in and around New York City.
The lawsuit filed in federal court in the Southern District of New York alleges that the restaurant discriminated against Feola because of her gender identity, which is the equivalent of sex discrimination and violates the Title VII of The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII).
Federal civil rights law protects employees from discrimination based on sex. Title VII doesn’t provide specific protection for employees from discrimination because of their sexual identity.
Some courts in recent years, however, have interpreted Title VII to cover discrimination based on sexual identity or being a transgender individual. But the law itself has not been amended to include such explicit protection. The EEOC takes the position that Title VII’s sex discrimination language prohibits discrimination based on sexual identity.
Some courts have explained “that discrimination against transgender employees for not conforming to the gender they were assigned at birth inherently takes gender (and therefore sex) into account. While this interpretation is not universally accepted, courts are increasingly agreeing with the EEOC’s rationale.” Other courts take a much more narrow view of Title VII, and their decisions reflect that. Federal discrimination cases that involve the rights of transgender employees, for now, have outcomes that vary from district to district.
Many states have laws that provide explicit protection where the federal law leaves gaps. New York City Human Rights Law, for example, protects individuals from employment discrimination based on gender identity and expression.
Sexual harassment is sex discrimination and is prohibited by Title VII. Sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature is pervasive or severe enough that it results in a hostile work environment for the target or another victim. Jokes, unwanted touching, sexual innuendo, repeated propositions, comments about one’s body and sexual threats are examples of what type of behavior creates a hostile environment.
Under Title VII employers may not retaliate against an employee for reporting, complaining or trying to stop discrimination or harassment.
The Huffington Post reports that the plaintiff Danielle Feola is a transgender woman who “was repeatedly harassed and subjected to derogatory comments about her gender identity while working just two weeks at an Applebee’s in Hawthorne, New York.”
Feola accused the employees of:
Feola alleged that she complained to management on several occasions during her short time at Applebee’s and they did nothing to assist her. Feola believes that the manager fired her in retaliation for her complaints and her gender identity.
Kevin Berry, the director of the EEOC’s New York office, stated: “The law requires employers who receive reports of sex harassment to investigate and take action to stop any unlawful treatment of their employees. That includes harassment of individuals because of their gender identity.” In addition to the sexual harassment claims, Feola also believes that the manager fired her in retaliation for her complaints.
If you are being mistreated at your place of employment because of your gender or gender identity, it may be time to contact attorneys who understand workplace discrimination laws and procedure. Leeds Brown Law, P.C. helps employees in New York City and the surrounding metro area who face discrimination and harassment that violates Title VII, New York State and New York City laws.
Call Leeds Brown for a free consultation if you are experiencing employment discrimination or retaliation. We can be reached 24/7 at 1-800-585-4658.