We previously posted about a decision from the Northern District of Florida-Lafayette v. Winstead County-holding that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protected employees from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Our own Elizabeth White's article on courts' growing recognition of this new theory was also featured in this Spring's business edition of Best Lawyers Magazine. Since we wrote those two pieces, there have been some major shake-ups in this area of employment law.
Last week, in a panel decision, EEOC v. Catastrophe Management Solutions, the Eleventh Circuit held that employers can discriminate against employees for wearing their hair in dreadlocks. The lawsuit was brought by the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission on behalf of a prospective employee who refused to comply with a company's grooming policy prohibiting employees from having dreadlocks. The EEOC contended that the defendant's refusal to hire the plaintiff was a form of race discrimination, because the hairstyle was one closely associated with individuals of African descent.
In a recent groundbreaking opinion written by Judge Mark Walker, Winstead v. Lafayette Board of County Commissioners, the Northern District held that Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of an employee's sexual orientation or their perceived sexual orientation. The opinion arose out of a lawsuit filed by two female EMTs employed by Lafayette County. Their complaint alleged that members of the Lafayette County Commission had engaged in harassment and failed to protect them from harassment of a co-worker based on his perception of their sexual orientation. The county argued that the plaintiff's claims should be dismissed because Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.