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.
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.
As we predicted, the Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that same-sex marriage is legal nationwide. The Court decision is a landmark victory for equality in this country. As anticipated, Justice Kennedy's comments at oral argument were not indicative of his ultimate decision as Justice Kennedy, in fact, wrote the majority opinion for the Court. Also, as reflected in this firm's brief in the Eleventh Circuit case on this subject, the decision in Loving v. Virginia, 388 U.S. 1 (1967), was incredibly persuasive to the Court.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court held oral arguments on the issue of same-sex marriage. The arguments revealed a few surprises. We are pleased that Justice Roberts pointed out that the marriage ban might be sex discrimination. Chief Justice Roberts stated that, "I mean, if Sue loves Joe and Tom loves Joe, Sue can marry him and Tom can't. And the difference is based upon their different sex. Why isn't that a straightforward question of sexual discrimination?"