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SEXUAL ORIENTATION DISCRIMINATION: WHAT EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTIONS NEED TO KNOW

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It wasn’t that long ago when it was fairly clear that sexual orientation was not considered a protected class under Title VII. However, as we first wrote about on this blog last year, sexual orientation discrimination is an expanding legal basis of protection for all employers to be concerned about. This includes educational institutions.

For example, in Haley Videckis, et al. v. Ryan Weisenberg, et al., a federal judge in California recently ruled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation was covered by Title IX – the law that prohibits gender discrimination in federally funded education programs. Specifically, the Court ruled that claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation are not a separate category of independent claims, but rather are a part of gender stereotype discrimination and/or sex discrimination. Although the Office of Civil Rights within the United States Department of Education had previously adopted this position in official guidance, Videckis marked the first time that a court had come to such a conclusion. In doing so, the Court closely followed the recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) position on the question.

All schools and colleges should carefully review their Title IX policies and procedures in light of the Videckis decision to ensure that they address discrimination based on sexual orientation. In addition, educational institutions need to make sure that their Title IX coordinators are up-to-date with these developments and compliance efforts. Further, universities (any employer, really) should carefully review their policies and procedures to be sure they are in line with the EEOC guidance on sexual orientation discrimination.

Admittedly, sexual orientation remains an extremely sensitive subject, but is more in the public consciousness now than it was 20 years ago, or even 10 years ago. The law and enforcement agencies are catching up to the times. Employers need to do the same when it comes to legal compliance in this area.

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