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Litigation Tracker: Sixth Circuit

Covers Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee

Positive case law in two cases has found that discrimination against transgender individuals based on gender stereotyping violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and that sex discrimination claims from transgender individuals may proceed under Title VII.

  • In an August 5, 2004 ruling in Smith v. City of Salem, the 6th Circuit ruled in favor of a transgender woman suspended from her job after she began presenting as female, following a meeting with her employer where she discussed her intention to fully transition from male to female. The decision overturned outdated precedent in the circuit, with the 6th Circuit panel writing that the previously “narrow view” of the term “sex discrimination” had been “eviscerated” by the Supreme Court’s Price Waterhouse. The 6th Circuit explained in Smith, “After Price Waterhouse, an employer who discriminates against women because, for instance, they do not wear dresses or makeup, is engaging in sex discrimination because the discrimination would not occur but for the victim’s sex. It follows that employers who discriminate against men because they do wear dresses and makeup, or otherwise act femininely, are also engaging in sex discrimination, because the discrimination would not occur but for the victim’s sex.”
  • In a March 22, 2005 ruling in Barnes v. City of Cincinnati, the 6th Circuit ruled that a transgender woman’s claims of discrimination based on gender identity could proceed as a Title VII sex discrimination claim, in alignment with its previous decision in Smith

Outdated case law in the circuit has found that discrimination based on sexual orientation does not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

  • In the July 19, 2006 ruling in Vickers v. Fairfield Medical Center the 6th Circuit wrote, “Sexual orientation is not a prohibited basis for discriminatory acts under Title VII.”
  • In the May 10, 2012 ruling in Kalich v. AT&T Mobility, LLC, the 6th Circuit wrote, “Under Michigan law, as under Title VII, sexual orientation is not a protected classification. Thus, harassment or discrimination based upon a person’s sexual orientation cannot form the basis of a cognizable claim.”


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Sixth Circuit

Chelsea Nelson Photography, LLC v. Louisville/Jefferson County Metro Government

Case Seeking Religious Exemptions from LGBTQ Non-Discrimination Laws

Key Date: February 27, 2020 • Statement of Interest Filed by Department of Justice
Status: Pending before Federal District Court in Kentucky
Legal Team: Alliance Defending Freedom
Type: Public Accommodations Discrimination

The lawsuit seeks to preempt a local ordinance in Louisville, Kentucky that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation in places of public accommodation.

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Dumont v. Lyon

Case Concerning Adoption Agencies' Ability to Deny Service to LGBTQ People

Key Date: March 22, 2019 • Settlement Reached
Status: Resolved
Legal Team: ACLU
Type: Other LGBT Litigation

Dumont v. Lyon is a case challenging a Michigan law that allows state-funded adoption agencies to cite religion as a reason for turning away foster parents or adoptive parents based on their sexual orientation. 

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Schawe-Lane v. Amazon

Case Concerning Employment Discrimination Based on Gender Identity Under Title VII

Key Date: April 11, 2018 • Parties Stipulate to Dismissal of Claims
Status: Filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky
Legal Team: Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund
Type: Employment Discrimination

Transgender Defense and Education Legal Fund (TLDEF) has filed a lawsuit in the 6th District Court regarding employment discrimination by Amazon against Allegra Schawe-Lane, a transgender woman, and her husband, Dane Lane.

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