Prowel v. Wise Business Forms

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  • Fairness in the Courts
  • Workplace Equality and Economic Empowerment
  • Sex-Based Classification
  • LGBTQ+ Rights
  • Authored Amicus Brief
2009

Determined whether an employee can bring a claim of gender stereotyping sex discrimination under Title VII even if there is coexisting evidence of sexual orientation discrimination.

Summary of the Case

This case involved a Western Pennsylvania employee who was continuously harassed and finally terminated from his factory job.  The record showed that Mr. Prowel did not conform to male gender stereotypes, and that much of the harassment he endured from his coworkers focused on his effeminacy; some of the harassment, however, focused on his perceived homosexuality.  The trial court dismissed Mr. Prowel's Title VII sex discrimination claim, holding that homosexuality is not a protected classification under federal anti-discrimination laws, and that Mr. Prowel's sex discrimination claim was in reality nothing but an artfully-pled sexual orientation claim in disguise.

Our Role in the Case

On appeal, the Women's Law Project and Legal Momentum submitted a brief on behalf of 21 organizations representing women in non-traditional employment, which argued that if sex discrimination claims fail anytime the record also contains evidence of sexual orientation discrimination, Title VII would be eviscerated as to the very women who are most victimized in the workplace: women in nontraditional employment.  Our brief surveyed the developing law in this field in this and the other circuits, showing that the district court erred by adopting reasoning that could seriously weaken Title VII and remove an entire class of people from its protection against sex discrimination.

Decision

A three-judge panel of the Third Circuit vacated the district court judgment dismissing the plaintiff's complaint and remanded the case for further proceedings. The court, however, affirmed the dismissal of Mr. Prowel's religious discrimination claim, concluding that this claim was just an artful way of pleading sexual orientation discrimination, against which there is presently no legal protection.

Amicus Brief

Decision