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Court finds that employer discriminated against gay man because he did not conform to traditional gender norms

Last month, a federal court in Ohio held that a jury could reasonably find that Ohio Bell Telephone Co. discriminated against a former employee on the basis of his sex because he did not conform to traditional gender norms. The former employee, Jason Koren, was a gay man who got married in Massachusetts and changed his last name to Koren, which was the last name of his husband. After he got married, one of his managers said that she would not recognize Koren’s marriage or the change of his name. She intentionally refused to refer to him by his new name and treated him with hostility. Ohio Bell eventually fired Koren when he missed work due to the death of his father. The court held that there was evidence that Ohio Bell fired Koren because he did not conform to traditional gender norms since he changed his name to the name of his husband.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Ohio, in Cleveland, held that an employer who discriminates against an employee because he does not conform to traditional gender norms engages in sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This is not a new theory of discrimination; it was established by the U.S. Supreme Court more than two decades ago. The court reasoned that women, not men, traditionally take their spouse’s last name. Since Koren, a man, took his husband’s last name, he had failed to conform to this traditional gender norm and, thus, Ohio Bell engaged in sex discrimination when it discriminated against him for taking his husband’s name.

This type of legal reasoning is necessary in Ohio because there is no federal law and no law in Ohio that prohibits discrimination against employees because of their sexual orientation. Maine, on the other hand, prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. If you believe that your employer has discriminated against you on the basis of your sexual orientation, you should contact an experienced employment lawyer to learn more about your rights.

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