Federal Court In Landmark Case Rules Sexual Orientation Discrimination Is Sex Discrimination


A federal court has issued a historic ruling, allowing victims of sexual orientation discrimination to sue under federal civil rights law.

A federal judge has ruled that "claims of sexual orientation discrimination are gender stereotype or sex discrimination claims" in matters concerning education.

The case involves two women plaintiffs, Haley Videckis and Layana White who are suing Pepperdine University, a private Christian college in California. They contend they were subjected to ongoing and repeated harassment and forced from the school's basketball team, lost their scholarships, and ultimately withdrew from the school altogether.

The case reads like something out of the 1950's.

The women allege their coach and other members of the school's athletics department privately interviewed their fellow players, asking if any player were lesbian or bisexual, and asked players if the two women were dating. They were prohibited from playing in manners not applied to other students. And they suffered retaliation when they complained.

They charge they were "harassed and discriminated against in an effort to force [them] to quit the team."

The women also claim one member of the school's athletics coaching staff asked their fellow players "how close Plaintiffs were, whether they took vacations together, where they slept, whether they pushed their beds together, whether they went on dates, and whether they would live together."

And there's this stunning charge.

"On April 16, 2014, Coach Ryan held a team leadership meeting where he spoke on the topic of lesbianism. In the meeting, Coach Ryan stated that lesbianism was a big concern for him and for women's basketball, that it was a reason why teams lose, and that it would not be tolerated on the team."

There are other charges of harassment, including claims the coaching staff lied, changed their time sheets, and a claim that "Coach Ryan reached out to two of Plaintiffs' teammates, recommended that the teammates not live with Plaintiffs, and stated that Plaintiffs were bad influences."

This ruling is not the final ruling in the case, it merely allows the case to move forward, stating that under Title IX of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was amended in 1972, the plaintiffs are entitled to sue.

Title IX reads:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.

In his ruling last week, U.S. District Court Judge Dean Pregerson writes, 

"This Court, in its prior order ... stated that 'the line between discrimination based on gender stereotyping and discrimination based on sexual orientation is blurry, at best.' After further briefing and argument, the Court concludes that the distinction is illusory and artificial, and that sexual orientation discrimination is not a category distinct from sex or gender discrimination. Thus, claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation are covered by Title VII and IX, but not as a category of independent claims separate from sex and gender stereotype. Rather, claims of sexual orientation discrimination are gender stereotype or sex discrimination claims."

Judge Pregerson also writes that "the Court finds that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex or gender discrimination, and that the 'actual' orientation of the victim is irrelevant. It is impossible to categorically separate 'sexual orientation discrimination' from discrimination on the basis of sex or from gender stereotypes; to do so would result in a false choice. Simply put, to allege discrimination on the basis of sexuality is to state a Title IX claim on the basis of sex or gender."


Image by CampusGrotto via Flickr and a CC license
Hat tip: Chris Geidner at Buzzfeed

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