Practically every day, little-noticed rulings are handed down by federal courts across the country that affect the vitality and strength of rights and principles women rely on. To illustrate why the courts – and battles over nominations – matter so much to women, we are preparing periodic reports on noteworthy decisions addressing women’s legal rights.
To read about four interesting – and for the most part, troubling - decisions issued last month, click here. Very briefly, here’s what they involved:
- Fourth Circuit throws out college athlete’s claim challenging coach’s sexual harassment. Melissa Jennings alleged that she and her teammates were subjected to ongoing sexual harassment by their soccer coach for over two years. He regularly made crude sexual comments to his players, and the school took no action when Jennings complained. We agree with the dissenting judge, who concluded that Jennings should have been given a chance to convince a jury that the coach took advantage of his position of power and created a sexually hostile environment.
Jennings v. University of North Carolina
- Ninth Circuit rejects challenge to employer’s makeup mandate. In this case, the court rejected the claim of a casino worker in Reno who was fired, after 20 years in the job, when she refused to comply with the company’s policy requiring her to wear a full complement of makeup on the job. A dissenting judge pointed out that “a rule that all judges wear face powder, blush, mascara, and lipstick while on the bench” would be considered burdensome and demeaning. Like the dissenters in this 7-4 decision, we do not think it was right to throw out this case. Jespersen v. Harrah’s Operating Co.
- Eighth Circuit says no hostile environment when supervisor spies on women’s restroom. In this case, the court dismissed a case brought by two female bookkeepers whose boss had surreptitiously installed a two-way mirror and peephole into the women’s restroom and then regularly spied on them for four years when they went to the bathroom. Although the man ultimately pleaded guilty to a felony charge for invasion of privacy, the court concluded that the women’s claims of a hostile environment in the workplace could not even get to a jury. It shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the only woman on the panel dissented – or that we agree with her. Cottrill v. MFA, Inc.
- District court upholds the right to medical privacy, but case now on appeal. A federal court in Kansas blocked enforcement of a legal opinion by the Kansas Attorney General requiring health care professionals, social workers, and school counselors to report to authorities any indication that a teen younger than 16 is sexually active. Medical experts feared the policy would discourage teenagers from seeking health care and counseling, including for sexually-transmitted diseases or birth control, and thereby jeopardize their health. A District Court struck down the Attorney General’s position as contrary to the plain language of the state law and an infringement of the Constitutional right to privacy concerning sexual or health-related information. While this decision is a victory for adolescent health and medical privacy, it is now on appeal to the Tenth Circuit, which already reversed a court order temporarily blocking the Attorney General’s position at an earlier stage of this case. Aid for Women v. Foulston
Stay tuned as we monitor the courts around the country and report on what they’re doing that’s of particular interest to women.