Federal Proclamation Effect on The Status of Employment Discrimination Laws in California

On October 4, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that under his interpretation of Title VII, gender identity and transgender status are not protected. According to Attorney General Sessions, “Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination encompasses discrimination between men and women but does not encompass discrimination based on gender identity per se, including transgender status.” The phrasing causes some pause, given that, in 1998, the United States Supreme Court held in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services that Title VII also applies to harassment between members of the same gender. The Justice Department recently made the same argument with respect to sexual orientation at oral argument before the Second Circuit in Zarda v. Altitude Express. This is a significant departure from the Obama Administration as well as the current position of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which interprets Title VII to prohibit such discrimination. While this topic continues to be debated, employers may be struggling to confirm they are in compliance with the ever-evolving legislation. Background Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibits, in relevant part, discrimination and harassment “because of […] sex.” Title VII does not, however, explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, transgender status, or gender expression. Until recently, Circuit Courts of Appeal unanimously interpreted the term “sex”…

Employers Prevail in Two Recent Age Discrimination Cases In California

They say “40 is the new 30,” and in the U.S. labor market that appears to be the trend.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, by 2024, the median age of the labor force will be 42.4, up from 37.7 in 1994. [Link] Yet under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, “40” is a protected class, just like race, gender or disability status. Government Code section 12940 et seq. prohibits an employer from taking adverse employment action against an employee who is 40 years or older because of that employee’s age.   In two recent appellate court decisions, employers were victorious in debunking claims that they engaged in unlawful age discrimination.   In Merrick v. Hilton Worldwide, Inc. [link], a 60-year-old former Hilton Hotel employee brought suit in federal court in San Diego claiming he was terminated from his position as Director of Property Operations at Hilton’s La Jolla Torrey Pines Hotel because of his age. Merrick was terminated as part of the hotel’s reduction-in-workforce that took place due to a decline in revenue. The company considered twenty-nine management level employees for lay off and chose Merrick because his position did not add revenue for the hotel (like food or beverage service), he had limited guest contact so the impact on guests was limited,…