LOS ANGELES -- The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled in favor of a man who filed a sex discrimination claim against his former employer, MGM Grand Hotel, Inc. for sexual harassment he endured while working as a hotel butler in Las Vegas, Nevada. The decision overturns a lower court ruling in favor of MGM Grand and reinstates the plaintiff's case.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting Mr. Medina Rene's case.
"We are very pleased with the ruling," said ACLU/SC board member and UCLA law professor William Rubenstein. "This decision will provide important workplace protections to employees throughout the 9th Circuit. The court recognized that sexual harassment is wrong whether it comes from individuals of the same sex or of the opposite sex, whether it is aimed at men or women, and whether the victims are gay or straight. This is an important ruling by a large group of Ninth Circuit judges that will reverberate throughout the nation."
Medina Rene is an openly gay man who was employed at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada from 1993 through 1996. Mr. Rene was continually harassed by his male co-workers and his male supervisor. He endured verbal taunts and whistles and was physically assaulted on several occasions.
Mr. Rene filed a complaint alleging that he had been sexually harassed in violation of Title VII, a federal law that makes it "unlawful employment practice...to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges or employment because of...sex[.]" A federal district court had granted summary judgement in favor of MGM Grand, finding that the discrimination Mr. Rene faced was based on his sexual orientation, not his sex. Title VII does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
Mr. Rene appealed to the Ninth Circuit and the court, sitting en banc, overturned the federal district court's ruling. Seven of the ten judges on the Ninth Circuit panel supported this outcome.
Acknowledging the harassment Mr. Rene faced because he is gay was not covered by Title VII, the Ninth Circuit held that he could nonetheless state a claim the he was discriminated against on the basis of sex, if he faced the type of sexual harassment that is prohibited by Title VII's ban on sex discrimination.
Writing for the court, Judge Judge William A. Fletcher stated that:
"We would hold that an employee's sexual orientation is irrelevant for purposes of Title VII. It neither provides nor precludes a cause of action for sexual harassment...It is enough that the harasser have engaged in severe or pervasive unwelcome physical conduct of a sexual nature."
In a concurring opinion signed by three judges, Judge Harry Pregerson also found that the plaintiff's case should not have been rejected but under a second Title VII theory. Judge Pregerson found that Mr. Rene was harassed because he did not act "manly" enough:
"This is a case of actionable gender stereotyping harassment...More than a decade ago, the Supreme Court held that gender stereotyping is actionable under Title VII."