Seventh Circuit Rules: Sexual Orientation Discrimination Illegal Under Title VII

Earlier this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit became the highest court in the country to rule that sexual orientation discrimination is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While Title VII does not explicitly include sexual orientation as a protected class, the court held that discriminating on the basis of sexual preference is a form of gender stereotyping that qualifies as illegal “sex” (or gender-based) discrimination.

Title VII has long prohibited employers with 15 or more employees from discriminating on the basis of certain characteristics, such as sex. Over the years, some courts have expanded the definition of what qualifies as sex discrimination. For example, the Supreme Court has held that same-sex harassment is illegal (a man harassing another man, or a woman harassing another woman).  And some federal circuit and district courts have held that discrimination based on gender stereotypes—such as a woman not being feminine enough or a man being too effeminate—qualifies as illegal sex discrimination.

Based on these legal precedents, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has started to pursue claims against employers for discriminating against gay and lesbian employees. However, the EEOC’s interpretation is not authoritative, and not all courts agree that sexual orientation discrimination is prohibited by Title VII.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently sided with the EEOC, holding that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of illegal sex discrimination until Title VII. This decision is contrary to the recent holdings of the Eleventh and Second Circuits, which decided that sexual orientation discrimination is not illegal under Title VII. As a result, there is now a split of authority among federal appeals courts—which could mean that the issue will make its way up to the Supreme Court.

Several states and cities already expressly prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. To learn more, see our state articles on employment discrimination.

Put a Marble in Your Pocket Before Attending Open Houses!

Spring open house season is in full swing, with homes freshened up and blooming with as many colors as you’ll see outdoors. In all the excitement, however, there’s a home defect that’s all too easy to overlook–but requires major work to fix.

I’m talking about sloping floors. Just this weekend, I visited a beautiful Arts and Crafts style home from the 1920s, which met most of the marketing copy’s promises of having been “lovingly restored.”

But I got a funny, tipsy feeling while walking toward the corners, and no, I hadn’t had any mimosas with my brunch. The more I looked and walked, the more it became obvious that the floors sloped. Still, I would have loved a way to test how serious the problem was.

That’s where the marble comes in. Set it on the ground and see how fast it rolls in a particular direction. If you really want to plan ahead, bring a level.

A marble that speeds along at high pace is a sign of real trouble: perhaps a subsiding foundation or sagging joists or some other equally expensive-to-fix problem.

At the very least, if you love the home, you’d want to include an inspection contingency with your offer, and make sure the inspector you hire is either qualified to evaluate the situation or can tell you what sort of engineer or other professional has the right qualifications.

EEOC Offers New Online System for Discrimination & Harassment Charges

Last week, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) launched a new online tool to help employees who are considering filing discrimination or harassment charges. The Online Inquiry and Appointment System is available in five EEOC locations to start, with the goal of making it available nationwide by late 2017.

Filing an EEOC claim is a long-standing prerequisite to filing a discrimination or harassment lawsuit under federal law. Historically, the claims filing process has been initiated in person, by mail, or by phone. An EEOC representative would then contact the employee for an intake interview and draw up a formal charge for the employee to sign.

Employees can now get the process started online if they live within 100 miles of one of the following five cities: Charlotte, Chicago, New Orleans, Phoenix, and Seattle. They can use the system to submit an online inquiry and schedule an intake interview by phone or in person. Employees who don’t live near these five cities can still use the online tool to determine whether they have a potential claim and mail in an intake questionnaire. Either way, the employee typically must sign a formal charge drafted by the EEOC in order to complete the process.

The EEOC anticipates that the online tool will make it easier for employees to file claims and streamline the claim filing process. The EEOC also hopes that the system will cut down on administrative time. The EEOC reports that less than half of current inquiries lead to formal charges because they don’t meet the legal requirements. The online tool helps weed out claims that don’t fall under the EEOC’s jurisdiction—for example, because the type of discrimination is not illegal under federal law or because the employer is too small. To learn more, visit the EEOC’s Online Inquiry System page.

Immigrant Insecurity Leading to Loss of Home Sales Around U.S.

With Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration having slammed the door on many legal entrants, not to mention the daily news stories about overzealous border officials interrogating upright U.S. citizens whose names they don’t like, it was only a matter of time before the real estate market felt the impact.

From Seattle to New York to the San Francisco Bay Area, reports are coming in about immigrants who are ceasing their home search or pulling out of actual purchase contracts.

These aren’t just immigrants from the countries blocked by Trump’s executive order, or ones who’ve been told they can’t live in the United States.

No, these are immigrants from around the world who are, as a Bay Area agent told the San Francisco Business Times, “nervous about spending that much money and maybe not staying here.”

An agent working on the Eastside in the Seattle area (where Microsoft and other tech companies are located) told the Seattle Times. “I understand the fear. I can’t tell someone, ‘Oh, don’t worry, you’ll get your visa renewed.’ Who knows? Things could change.”

(And just for the record, an immigration attorney could not, at this point, give the person any more solid reassurance. Trump has already used executive orders to fashion unprecedented sorts of change.)

Some agents say their clients worry that their country will be next on the list for an outright ban.

Will the U.S. real estate market feel the loss of these foreign buyers? Time will tell, but given that non-citizens typically invest around $100 billion per year in U.S. homes, according to Barron’s, this isn’t exactly small change.

And whether you’re a home seller or a home buyer from another country who’s worried about the long term, you might want to read about some of the legal issues involved in a canceled closing in Earnest Money: What Happens When Your Home Purchase Falls Through.

Mass Roundup of Undocumented Immigrants Comparable to Shooting Fish in a Barrel

Remember the old “shooting fish in a barrel” simile, connoting “ridiculously easy” according to the dictionary?

It apparently dates from the 1940s, presenting the idea that while free-swimming fish have a fair shot at survival, ones that you’ve captured in a barrel are, to mix metaphors, sitting ducks. None other than Mythbusters found that “you don’t even have to be a good shot to take out a barrel of fish with a single bullet.”

The phrase also carries a suggestion that, in a country that adulates sportsmanship and a fair fight, shooting fish in a barrel demonstrates neither.

Which brings me to current U.S. immigration enforcement actions.

Per the terms of Trump’s “Presidential Executive Order: Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,” pretty much everyone has become a top priority for removal from the United States. (In the past, criminals were the top priority, but the order redefined “crime” to include everything from crossing the border without papers to using a false Social Security Number in order to work to having been deemed, in the jaded eyes of U.S. immigration officials, a risk to public safety.)

We’re already seeing raids in workplaces, homes, and churches; denial of individual benefits that were previously granted; and reports that the National Guard will be deployed to round up undocumented immigrants.

So here’s the thing: rounding up undocumented immigrants is pathetically easy. Any number of U.S. government agencies have information on where they live. In many cases they pay taxes using a substitute number called an “ITIN” (a dead giveaway that they don’t have a real Social Security Number), have been named by their family members on immigration petitions starting the green card process for them (which petitions require an address but don’t give them any short-term rights to be in the U.S.), have obtained special drivers’ licenses in the handful of states that allow these to undocumented persons, and have been granted either DACA status or prosecutorial discretion.

That last one, prosecutorial discretion, is especially important to understand in the current climate. It’s at the knife edge of the difference between President Obama’s immigration policy and that of Trump.

The Obama policy (set forth in a November 2014 memo) addressed the reality that deporting everyone in the U.S. would not only overload the system, but separate families (particularly ones that include U.S. citizen spouses or children). People who were low on the priority list could not only ask that their removal proceedings be suspended, but receive a sort of quasi-status under which they regularly reported to immigration officials and might be granted a work permit.

Now, however, that regular check-in has become the ultimate fish-in-a-barrel way to deport someone. The case of Guadalupe “Lupita” García de Rayos seems to be the first in which someone showed up for the regular meeting and was deported. Other recipients of prosecutorial discretion are already in fear, such as Jeanette Vizguerra, an immigrant mother of four who has reportedly taken refuge in a Denver church.

So what’s next? The Trump executive order hasn’t answered the question of how a system that was truly overloaded already (with years-long backlogs in U.S. immigration court, the next stop for many persons affected by this order) is going to deal with this new influx of arrested or detained persons.