Paramour Preference at Work Did Not Violate Title VII, 9th Circuit Rules

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

September 8, 2021

A supervisor's favoritism for a romantic partner in employment decisions does not violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled.

The court acknowledged in Maner v. Dignity Health that workplace favortism toward a supervisor's sexual partner is certainly unfair to similarly situated workers and more than likely harms morale. However, it noted that "Title VII is not a general civility code" and that unwise employment practices are not necessarily unlawful.

The laboratory where the plaintiff worked said it terminated him because of budget cuts and poor performance. But he called the employer's explanation pretextual and claimed that he lost his job for protesting his supervisor's favoritism toward the supervisor's paramour at the expense of other employees.

The plaintiff cited the Supreme Court's Bostock ruling as supporting a broad interpretation of Title VII that recognizes a "paramour preference" claim. In rejecting that reasoning, the 9th Circuit noted that all other employees except the paramour - whether they were men or women - were in the same predicament as the plaintiff. Therefore, the employer did not discriminate on account of his sex because changing the man's gender would not have produced a different result.

Several federal appellate courts - including the 2nd, 4th, 5th, 7th, 8th, 10th and 11th Circuits - have reached similar findings that a paramour preference does not rise to the level of sex discrimination. The EEOC also has taken the position that Title VII does not ban isolated instances of preferential treatment based upon consensual romantic relationships.