Federal Judge Rules in Favor of Fired Gay Man, Citing 2nd Circuit Concurrence & 7th Circuit Ruling

By Adam Polaski • May 8, 2017 • 11:45 am

On Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein ruled in the case of Philpott v. New York, a case concerning a gay man harassed and fired from a job because of his sexual orientation. Judge Hellerstein ruled that claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation can be brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which includes federal protections from discrimination based on sex.

The ruling cites two recent decisions: the April 2017 decision in Hively from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which became the first federal appellate court ever to find that Title VII covers employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, and a concurring opinion in Christiansen from the Chief Judge at the 2nd Circuit, who seemed to reluctantly rule against a gay plaintiff but then urged the full court to reconsider the issue of whether Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Judge Hellerstein wrote: “Under the analysis set forth in both the Second Circuit’s majority concurrence in Christiansen and the Seventh Circuit’s en banc holding in Hively, because [Philpott] has stated a claim for sexual orientation discrimination, ‘common sense’ dictates that he has also stated a claim for gender stereotyping discrimination, which is cognizable under Title VII. The fact that plaintiff has framed his complaint in terms of sexual orientation discrimination and not gender stereotyping discrimination is immaterial.”

The judge continued: “The law with respect to this legal question is clearly in a state of flux, and the Second Circuit, or perhaps the Supreme Court, may return to this question soon. In light of the evolving state of the law, dismissal of plaintiff’s Title VII claim is improper. … I decline to embrace an ‘illogical’ and artificial distinction between gender stereotyping discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination, and in so doing, I join several other courts throughout the country. … For these reasons, and in light of the evolving state of the law on this question, I hold that plaintiffs sexual orientation discrimination claim is cognizable under Title VII.”

The plaintiff, Jeffrey Philpott, is the former vice president of student Affairs at SUNY’s College of Optometry. When he disclosed that he is gay and in a domestic partnership to the president of the college, Jeffrey was asked to meet multiple times and was asked invasive questions about his relationship. Later, the president began publicly teasing Jeffrey about his sexual orientation, and a few months after he complained about the discriminatory treatment, he was fired, even after he received a positive performance review.

Law 360 reports that Daniel E. Dugan, counsel for the plaintiff, reflected on the ruling, saying, “We’re happy with the well-reasoned decision that will allow Mr. Philpott to pursue his claims of sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII. The time has certainly come for it to be recognized that Title VII should protect employees from this type of discrimination.”

Following the decision in Philpott, the legal team in Christiansen – which just a few weeks ago requested en banc review from the full 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals – submitted a letter about the Philpott ruling, acknowledging it as an example of why the full court must rehear their case and reconsider this important issue.

Clearly, momentum for LGBT non-discrimination is building and picking up steam. As Freedom for All Americans continues to pursue opportunities to advance legislation at the local, state, and federal level, we also applaud our indispensable legal partners for their work in the courts. This movement in the courts builds undeniable momentum toward federal resolution and provides critical education opportunities to help more Americans understand the need for non-discrimination. Together, with the strategies of securing court wins and encouraging policymakers to take action on inclusive laws, we can protect more people as quickly as possible and ensure that no one faces discrimination because of who they are or who they love, in any aspect of their daily lives.

Read the full ruling at Equality Case Files. 


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