In a new opinion from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, Maner v. Dignity Health, the plaintiff was a male design engineer who was laid off due to performance and budget cut issues. He alleged that he had been discriminated against due to his sex, because a female employee who was engaged in a romantic relationship with their joint supervisor kept her job. The plaintiff alleged that Title VII prohibits discrimination against employees on the basis of so-called “paramour preference.”
The Ninth Circuit agreed with every federal appellate court to consider these claims, and affirmed dismissal of the suit on summary judgment. The court concluded that the plaintiff had not been allegedly discriminated against due to his sex, but because he was not involved in a sexual relationship with the supervisor. This same reasoning would apply to every other employee who was not involved in such relationship regardless of their sex.
The Ninth Circuit refused to read Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination to include discrimination due to sexual activity. The statute’s use of the term “sex” is limited to gender-related claims. The court also rejected the plaintiff’s claims that the Supreme Court’s recent Bostock decision, which found Title VII’s sex discrimination prohibition to include sexual orientation and gender identity, extends to paramour preference.
While workplace romances can lead to significant turnover, morale and other employee relations issues, in the absence of some claim of coercion, they generally will not trigger direct legal liability for employers.