In a big surprise, the court said that claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity were prohibited by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e-21(a)(1). In Minnesota, such claims were already enabled by the Minnesota Human Rights Act, under which sex is a protected class.
Bostock revived a long-running sex-discrimination case against the University of Minnesota brought by three women athletic coaches who allege that their contracts were not renewed or they were constructively discharged based on their sex and sexual orientation. One of the coaches, Shannon Miller, settled her claim for $4.5 million in 2019.
Two other coaches, Jen Banford and Annette Wiles, saw their claims get another chance when the 8th Circuit sent it back to District Court after Bostock. But U.S. District Court Judge Patrick Schiltz again entered summary judgment for the U of M.
Bostock was completely unexpected, said Minneapolis attorney Jeannette Bazis of Greene Espel, one of the attorneys for the U of M. “It was entrenched law that Title VII didn’t protect against sexual orientation claims.” But the Minnesota Human Rights Act does, so new cases may not need Bostock, she said.
In his ruling in April 2021, Schiltz said that the coaches did not establish a hostile environment and had many disputes that were not the extreme kind of conduct that is actionable.
Banford went back up to the 8th Circuit, but not Wiles. Banford argues that she had a dual appointment in hockey and softball that was not renewed. The case has been pending since August 2021, when briefing was completed. No hearing date has been set, Bazis said. The university argues that no reasonable jury could find that the nonrenewal of Banford’s dual appointment was based on her being a gay woman.
As the case waits, Bazis has been dealing with restrictive covenants and trade secrets agreements, and helping clients reopen their workplaces, sometimes over the objections of some employees.