Recently, the Iowa Supreme Court concluded that an employer who terminated an employee to allay the concerns of his jealous spouse did not unlawfully discriminate on the basis of sex. Though the Iowa decision addressed a claim filed under a state civil rights statute, it highlights an emerging question in broader sex-discrimination jurisprudence—whether terminating an employee based on romantic jealousy constitutes unlawful sex discrimination.
This Note argues that Title VII should be interpreted to prohibit some terminations based on romantic jealousy. Sex-discrimination claims based on romantic jealousy are properly classified as mixed-motive claims. Thus, the question courts must ask in analyzing romantic-jealousy claims is whether the jealousy that provoked a termination was motivated by gender. In some circumstances, it will be clear that gender motivated both romantic jealousy and any termination resulting therefrom.
Courts should not rely on or extend precedents involving favoritism or romantic relationships to dismiss sex-discrimination claims arising due to romantic jealousy. The rationales justifying the dismissal of claims in the favoritism and romantic-relationship contexts are inapplicable to the romantic-jealousy context. Furthermore, to dismiss claims due to the existence of nonsexual, nonromantic personal relationships between employers and employees would drastically limit Title VII’s reach. To accurately determine whether jealousy-based termination constitutes unlawful discrimination, courts must look behind the jealousy.
Kristy Dahl Rogers,
An Irresistible Attraction: Rethinking Romantic Jealousy as a Basis for Sex-Discrimination Claims,
64 Duke Law Journal
Available at: https://scholarship.law.duke.edu/dlj/vol64/iss7/5