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The U.S. Supreme Court will soon decide whether the Civil Rights Act protects LGBT workers. The high court will also examine what plaintiffs must allege in bias lawsuits to move past the pleading stage. Such decisions this term will undoubtedly be impactful. The conclusions may even tip a new lawsuit filed on Thursday against Fox News.
In New York federal court, Juan Legramandi identifies himself as a homosexual male of Colombian heritage. He says he was hired by the network in January 2017 and ultimately fired after he repeatedly complained about discrimination in the workplace.
Within months of his hiring, he says, another Fox News employee began harassing him, telling him, “You are a diva but since I’m the one with twenty-plus years of experience as a salon owner, I’m the only diva allowed here.”
Legramandi says he complained about the comment to his supervisor, Jill Van Why, senior vp of programming operations. No remedial action came, and several days later, Van Why allegedly asked Legramandi at a meeting whether there was “anything romantic” between him and Andrew Napolitano, a former state judge in New Jersey and now a legal analyst for Fox News. Van Why allegedly referenced rumors and made “discriminatory insinuations” about his sexual orientation during the conversation.
The complaint filed in New York federal court then recounts other instances of biased comments that Legramandi says he heard during his term of employment.
On one occasion in Sept. 2017, anchor Harris Faulkner was getting her hair done when a news story came on a nearby monitor. Faulkner allegedly said, “Hispanic women are so ignorant,” and when Legramandi reacted by telling her that he was born in Columbia, Faulkner allegedly sneered, “Your family is from a Third World country.”
On another occasion in Feb. 2018, Angela McGlowan, a political commentator for the network, entered the studio’s green room, and walking past Legramandi and another openly gay stylist, allegedly commented, “Ugh! It’s like Sodom and Gomorrah in here.”
Legramandi’s suit (read in full here) also claims that the network retaliated against him after he distributed “pride” T-shirts emblazoned with a rainbow-colored 21st Century Fox logo that had been given by a Fox News anchor. Specifically, he says he had to endure a discriminatory dress code that wasn’t enforced against other employees.
Ultimately, an incident in Sept. 2018 led to Legramandi’s departure.
Blamed for messing with Faulkner’s schedule, Legramandi says he got into an unwanted confrontation with another employee. At one point during this event, the other employee is said to have shouted, “I’m not uncomfortable. You’re the one moving. I’m straight.”
Legramandi reported the incident to human resources, which then allegedly seized upon it as “pretext” to let him go.
Among the claims, the suit asserts a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That would be the same law that the Supreme Court spent time considering at a hearing on Tuesday focused on job discrimination against gay and transgender workers. Legramandi is also claiming a violation of older federal civil rights statutes that will get attention at an upcoming hearing involving alleged bias on the part of Comcast. There, the Supreme Court will examine whether a plaintiff must allege that discrimination alone caused an adverse action or whether plaintiffs can get by alleging discrimination as merely a factor in the decision-making.
In response to Legramandi’s suit, the defendant comments, “Fox News denies these allegations and will vigorously defend against these baseless claims.”
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