The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently rejected claims of “family status” discrimination under Title VII and the Pennsylvania Human Rights Act (PHRA), finding that “discrimination based on family status alone is not actionable under Title VII.”
The case, found here, involved a 52-year old white plaintiff, who is married to an Asian ethnic Chinese woman and has seven mixed race children. Among other allegations, the plaintiff alleged that Pen Argyl Area School District (PAASD) discriminated against families with children of mixed race white and Far East Asian heritage, when it failed to interview him or hire him in various coaching positions that had become open, after he had purportedly expressed an interest in obtaining employment as an athletic coach. In support of his claims, the plaintiff alleged that younger white males who were not from mixed race families obtained such positions.
In summarily disposing of the plaintiff’s discrimination claim under Title VII, the District Judge held, “Simply stated, Mr. Blasi is not a member of a protected class for Title VII purposes. Because he is not a member of a protected class, he cannot establish a prima facie case of direct discrimination under Title VII. His claims under this legal theory have no merit.” The court likewise dismissed Plaintiff’s companion PHRA claim, finding that “discrimination based on ‘familial status’ is not actionable under the PHRA.”
Though the outcome in this case was favorable to employers, it is important that employers remain cognizant of potential associational claims under Title VII (among other statutes). By way of example, the EEOC’s guidance (found here) states that “Race/color discrimination also can involve treating someone unfavorably because the person is married to (or associated with) a person of a certain race or color.” This case serves as a valuable reminder that plaintiffs are more frequently asserting claims based not on their own characteristics (e.g., race, national origin, etc.), but of those with whom they associate. As this area of the law continues to evolve, and judges are confronting “associational” issues and assessing the particular circumstances at issue, this is a close area to watch in order to keep abreast of the holdings (and potential inconsistencies among courts) arising in such contexts.