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Familial Status Not Protected Classification under Title VII

    Client Alerts
  • February 29, 2008

In a recent decision, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected claims by a husband, wife, and daughter that “familial status” constitutes a protected classification under Title VII.  In Adamson v. Multi Community Diversified Services Inc., three family members were simultaneously terminated from their employment by the company’s board of directors.  The family claimed that their terminations constituted unlawful sex-based discrimination against them as husband, wife and daughter in violation of Title VII.  The company, however, responded that it fired the daughter because her job was unnecessary, and terminated the husband and wife because of concerns about their management style and possible implications on the company’s anti-nepotism policy.


The lower court granted the company’s motion for summary judgment on all discrimination claims.  With regard to the family’s sex discrimination claim, the district court noted that the argument was certainly peculiar as the husband and wife were arguing simultaneously that their respective terminations resulted from both anti-male and anti-female discriminatory intent.  Nonetheless, it refused to comment on whether this “familial status” theory fit within the purview of Title VII, and dismissed the family’s claim because they failed to produce sufficient evidence of pretext.  The district court concluded that the defendant’s failure to apply its anti-nepotism policy to a father and son working for the company will not satisfy the plaintiffs’ burdens of establishing actionable discriminatory intent.


The Tenth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the husband’s age discrimination claim holding that there was insufficient evidence of discriminatory intent.  Additionally, the Court generally affirmed the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs’ sex discrimination claims.  More importantly, the Tenth Circuit directly rejected the plaintiffs’ assertion that “familial status” constitutes a protected category under Title VII.  The court reasoned that while an employer’s application of an anti-nepotism policy to promote gender based discrimination could raise sex discrimination issues, “familial status” is, by definition, gender neutral.  Assertions that an employer discriminated against an individual on the basis of his or her relation to a spouse or child states no recognizable cause of action under Title VII.