There is currently legislation pending in both the Ohio House [H.B. 163] and Ohio Senate [S.B. 125] that would include “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the list of classes from which employees are protected from discrimination by their employers. Notably, the bills protect both actual and perceived sexuality and gender-related appearance:
- “Sexual orientation” = “actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, or bisexuality.”
- “Gender identity” = “the gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated gender at birth.”
If Ohio Revised Code chapter 4112 is amended to include these protections, then harassment of employees based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity become illegal. In that case, the line-splitting in which courts have engaged under the rubric of “same-sex harassment” will largely become a relic.
Case in point? EEOC v. Boh Brothers Construction Co. (5th Cir. 9/30/13). The facts of this case are horrific. It’s worth a read to understand just how cruel employees can be to each other. Yet, the case split 10-6 on whether the facts supported claim of sexual harassment. One of the two dissents envisioned a world in which employers would have to distribute “etiquette memos” to purge the workplace of speech and gestures that might be viewed in any way as tokens of sex discrimination.
The dissent is exaggerating to make its point that Title VII was never meant to be a general civility code, and only the worst type of sex-based behavior is meant to trigger the statute.
Exaggerations aside, the time has come for Congress (when the federal government is back in business), along with all 50 state legislatures, to step up to the plate and end this debate. Enact legislation including sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes, and bring to and end the shameful protection of discrimination against this marginalized class of individuals.
Written by Jon Hyman, a partner in the Labor & Employment group of Kohrman Jackson & Krantz. For more information, contact Hyman at (216) 736-7226 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow Hyman on Twitter @jonhyman.