U.S. Supreme Court Sends Gender Identity Discrimination Case Back to Appellate Court

restroom signIn April 2016, a federal appellate court issued a ruling that had the potential to support New York gender identity employment discrimination claims under federal law. G.G. ex rel. Grimm v. Gloucester Cty. School Bd., 822 F.3d 709 (4th Cir. 2016). The court held that the federal statute addressing sex discrimination in education applied to a claim of discrimination on the basis of gender identity. Employment laws in New York City and other jurisdictions expressly prohibit gender identity and gender expression discrimination, but federal employment law does not mention it. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in the case last August. Earlier this year, it vacated the appellate court’s ruling and remanded the case, noting that the lower court’s decision relied on a federal administrative interpretation of the law that had since been revoked. The Supreme Court may still hear the case, but only after the appellate court reviews it again.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., it is unlawful for employers to discriminate on the basis of sex and other factors. Several federal courts, at both the district and the appellate levels, have ruled that Title VII’s sex discrimination provisions apply to gender identity and gender expression claims. This is also the position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), based on its own rulings. The U.S. Supreme Court, however, has not ruled on this question.

The statute at issue in G.G. is Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. Much like Title VII, Title IX’s provisions on sex discrimination make no specific mention of gender identity or gender expression. The G.G. case focused on a regulation requiring schools to provide “comparable facilities,” including restrooms, to students of different sexes. 34 C.F.R. § 106.33. In a 2015 opinion letter, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) interpreted this rule to mean that schools must allow transgender students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity. The U.S. Department of Justice began enforcing this requirement in the same year, and the two departments issued a joint guidance document in 2016.

The Fourth Circuit, in its ruling in G.G., relied to a large extent on the DOE’s interpretation of § 106.33. The court concluded that it was obligated to give “controlling weight” to the the opinion letter. G.G., 822 F.3d at 723. It reversed the district court’s order dismissing the case for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

The defendant appealed to the Supreme Court, and while the case was awaiting a hearing date, a new administration took over the White House in January 2017. The DOE, under new management, revoked the 2015 opinion letter and 2016 guidance document in February. The Supreme Court vacated the Fourth Circuit ruling without a hearing on March 6, 2017, and it remanded the case to the appellate court with instructions to review the case in light of the DOE’s new position on the issue.

The knowledgeable and experienced gender identity discrimination lawyers at Phillips & Associates advocate for job seekers, employees, and former employees in New York City. We represent our clients in local, state, and federal claims for unlawful employment practices. To schedule a free and confidential consultation to discuss your case, contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

More Blog Posts:

Appeal of Gender Identity Discrimination Lawsuit Takes an Unusual Turn, New York Employment Attorney Blog, August 4, 2017

Federal Caselaw Regarding Employment Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation May Offer a Guide for Claims of Gender Identity and Gender Expression Discrimination, New York Employment Attorney Blog, July 7, 2017

Appellate Court Rules that Federal Antidiscrimination Law Applies to Gender Identity and Expression, New York Employment Attorney Blog, May 20, 2016

Photo credit: Checkingfax (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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