“Familial Status” Not Protected by Title VII
Plaintiffs sometimes go to ridiculous lengths to try to qualify for protection under the discrimination laws. In one recent unusual case, a married couple and their daughter, who were all fired from their jobs with the same employer, argued that Title VII should be interpreted so as to protect them from alleged discrimination based on their status as related family members. The Tenth Circuit rejected the theory. Adamson v. Multi Community Diversified Services, Inc., No. 05-3478 (10th Cir. Feb. 1, 2008).
In Adamson, a man (the CEO), his wife (a program director), and their daughter (also an employee), were simultaneously discharged from their employment by the board of directors. One reason for their terminations was that the CEO's hiring and direct supervision of his wife and daughter were considered "ill-advised" under the company's discretionary anti-nepotism policy.
All three claimed "family status" discrimination. This claim had no merit, the Court explained, because Title VII protects neither the family unit nor individual family members from discrimination based on their "familial status" alone. Familial status is gender neutral—it is not a classification based on gender any more than is being a sibling or relative generally. (Please note that "familial status" discrimination is not the same as "family responsibilities discrimination." The EEOC and many courts recognize "family responsibilities discrimination" claims, in situations where employers treat employees differently, typically due to their gender, because of child care or elder care or because of stereotypes about gender roles in child care or elder care.)
The women also claimed gender discrimination and were unsuccessful. Statements by the employer expressing concern that the CEO might exert "undue influence" over his wife and daughter were not linked to gender. If anything, the statements related to his familial status and his supervisory role over his wife and daughter, neither of which implicates Title VII.
The CEO also failed with his claims of reverse gender discrimination and age discrimination. He could not show the employer was one of those unusual businesses that would discriminate against men. His evidence that he made comments to another board member of his plans to retire "some time" in the future, was not adequate to support age discrimination liability, because contemplation of retirement at some time in the future is common for all employees protected by the ADEA.
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© 2008 Sherman & Howard L.L.C. March 3, 2008