Articles Posted in Sexual Orientation

Delaware began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples on July 1, 2013, less than a week after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Delaware will no longer perform civil unions pursuant to the Civil Union Equality Act, which was passed into law in 2010. Couples who entered into a civil union prior to July 1 may convert their civil union into a legally recognized marriage or wait until July 1, 2014, when all remaining civil unions will be automatically converted.

The Court’s DOMA ruling is expected to affect an estimated 1,138 federal benefits, rights, and privileges. For Delaware employers, the impact is potentially significant. Delaware employers must now extend all federal benefits to gay married couples that were previously made available to straight married couples. The impact also is immediate. Unlike with new legislation, there will be no delay between the Court’s ruling and an employer’s obligation to extend benefits.

Although the Supreme Court’s decision will impact who is eligible for benefits, the procedures remain unchanged. For example, the process for requesting and reviewing FMLA leave, COBRA coverage, and other federally mandated benefits of employment will not change.

The Delaware House of Representatives voted yesterday in favor of Senate Bill 30, a bill that would create same-sex civil unions in Delaware, and recognize civil unions performed in other states. The bill also changes all sections of the Delaware Code where marriage is mentioned, by requiring that the word “marriage” be read to mean “marriage or civil union.”  Delaware Capitol Hill color

Senate Bill 30 was approved by the Delaware Senate on April 7, and Governor Markell has already declared that he will sign the bill into law “as soon as a suitable time and place are arranged.” The law will take effect on January 1, 2012.

The new law raises several questions for employers.  For example, the law cannot, and does not, alter federal non-recognition of civil unions. So how will the new law impact employers?

In July, Delaware Governor Jack Markell signed into law an amendment to Delaware’s employment-discrimination statute. The amendment prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. Not surprisingly, many employers are concerned about the potential for increased litigation in light of the new law. Some employers may be surprised to learn that current federal law has been used to achieve a similar level of protection. A recent decision from the federal appeals court demonstrates the extent that such protection is provided under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (Title VII). square peg round hole

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which has jurisdiction over the federal courts of Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the Virgin Islands, ruled in late August that a homosexual employee could proceed with his claim that he was harassed and fired because of his “effeminate behaviors.” The unanimous decision of a three-judge panel in Prowel v. Wise Business Forms, Inc., has made headlines across the country as an extension of Title VII’s sex-based discrimination provisions. Brian D. Prowel brought the claim after he was terminated by his employer after 13 years with the company. He alleges that Wise told him that he was being terminated for lack of work as part of a workforce reduction. 

According to Prowel, his termination actually was a result of “gender stereotyping.” Unlawful gender stereotyping in the workplace occurs when an employer discriminates against an individual because the individual fails to conform to a certain perception about how the gender should look and act.

NASCAR has been sued for race discrimination, gender discrimination, and sexual harassment.  The plaintiff, a black female former official, seeks $225 million in damages.

NASCAR Discrimination Suit

The plaintiff, Mauricia Grant, worked as a technical inspector in NASCAR’s second-tier Nationwide Series until she was fired in October 2007. She’d been with the organization since 2005, when she alleges the harassment and discrimination began. 

Her complaint, filed in federal court in New York, lists 23 specific instances of alleged sexual harassment and 34 specific instances of alleged gender and racial discrimination.

Earlier this month, USA Today reported that a University of Hawaii student had filed suit against the public university for housing dicrimination. He alleged that, although he and his partner had been granted permission previously to live in the university-subsidized family housing, that permission had been revoked because the state did not recognize same-sex marriage. The couple, therefore, did not meet the criteria necessary to qualify for family housing.

Laws that protect againt housing discrimination and employment discrimination are often passed in the same bill. But Hawaii is not one of the states that has set up its laws this way. Hawaii state law prohibits discrimination in employment decisions based on sexual orientation. It does not have a parallel law for housing discrimination, though.

As you may know, Delaware has neither. But it has not been for lack of trying. Senate Bill #141 has been proposed and passed in the State House of Representatives for several years in a row. It has been tabled each time and housed in the drawer of a legislator until it is proposed again the following year. The bill would amend the titles of the Delaware Code that deal with Employment Discrimination, Public Housing and Public Works, Equal Accommodations, and Insurance. In each of those areas, it is unlawful to use race, religion, national origin, gender, age, or other protected characteristics as the basis for granting or denying access to, for example, public housing or government contracts.

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