Ever since the cast of Will and Grace reunited for a mini episode encouraging all of us to vote in 2016, the internet has been in a frenzy about the possibility of a revival 18 years after the show first aired. In January, the news broke that NBC has ordered a 10-episode limited revival series reuniting the original stars. The show is known for making us laugh while breaking significant ground during its eight season run in terms of LGBT representation on TV.
The news of a revival comes in the midst of uncertainty about whether sexual orientation is covered by Title VII, the federal law prohibiting employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has repeatedly taken the position that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation qualifies as sex discrimination, “because it necessarily entails treating an employee less favorable because of the employee’s sex.” However, the Eleventh Circuit recently upheld a district court’s dismissal of a complaint alleging harassment based on sexual orientation under Title VII.
The Eleventh Circuit found that sexual orientation is not covered by Title VII. However, the Eleventh Circuit vacated the portion of the district court’s order dismissing the plaintiff’s claims that she was discriminated against for failure to conform to gender stereotypes. The U.S. Supreme Court has not yet directly decided whether sexual orientation falls within the scope of Title VII, though it has recognized that discrimination based on sex stereotypes and same-sex harassment are prohibited under the statute.
The Second Circuit is currently considering the issue, while the Seventh Circuit is reconsidering its prior decision finding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Multiple district courts have reached the opposite conclusion, finding that sexual orientation discrimination constitutes prohibited sex discrimination. With this latest Eleventh Circuit decision and expected decisions from other circuits, the issue may soon be ripe for clarification by Congress or the Supreme Court. In the meantime, it is important to keep your employment policies updated and bear in mind that certain local and state laws, such as the Illinois Human Rights Act, have expressly prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, including gender identity.
While we wait for this issue to wind its way through the judicial system, be sure to have your blankets and popcorn (and/or Karen-worthy martinis) ready for some of our favorite characters to return to the small screen. I’m sure we can all look forward to more of Karen’s one-liners because, as she taught us, “Honey, tact is for people who aren’t witty enough to be sarcastic.”