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Understanding gray areas in Title VII

Texas employers likely know that sex discrimination is banned under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, there is still a gray area surrounding termination for issues that may only impact one sex. One woman sued her employer claiming that she was fired after health issues related to the onset of menopause. These health issues allegedly caused her to stain an office chair, which was one of the reasons why she was terminated.

While the case was settled before the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit could issue a ruling, there are some questions as to how the court could and should have ruled. A representative from the National Women's Law Center argued that the case represented termination based on something unique to a person's sex. Therefore, it would be unlawful to terminate based on that reason. Others argued that it wouldn't be discrimination if both genders were treated the same way as it relates to physical conditions.

According to the EEOC, discrimination may occur if a person is terminated for a condition that only one sex could experience. The Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit has agreed with this reasoning in the past. Therefore, employers who discriminate against employees because they are lactating or menstruating are likely doing so on the basis of sex.

Those who are terminated for reasons other than job performance may be victims of workplace harassment. It may be possible to file a complaint with the EEOC to take action against an employer. In some cases, it may be possible for employers to provide employees with reasonable accommodations or otherwise resolve the matter without the need to go to court. This may save both sides time and money while preserving relationships.

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