Dallas County Sheriff's sex-based schedule policy is discriminatory, court finds
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Friday a former policy in the Dallas County Sheriff Department that allowed only male officers to take off weekends violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
A U.S. district court judge originally dismissed the case in 2020 because nine female officers who sued the department had not proved they faced an “ultimate employment decision” because of the work policy, like being fired or denied a promotion.
In the opinion issued Friday, the appellate judges reversed a district court’s decision — and their own initial decision that agreed with the lower court.
“Satisfied that our 'ultimate employment decision' standard lies on fatally flawed foundations, we flatten it today,” the opinion reads. “Having done away with our atextual 'ultimate employment decision' gloss, we apply the statute as it is written and as construed by the Supreme Court.”
In a statement, a department spokesperson wrote the policy was never official, but instead a decision made by one supervisor. It was "immediately reversed when learned of by the next level of supervision."
In their lawsuit, the women said weekend shift assignments for detention officers at the Dallas County Jail changed from being based on seniority to being based on gender in 2019. But a lower court judge dismissed their case in 2020, finding the women had not suffered any adverse employment action like being fired or denied a promotion.
A three-judge panel in the Fifth Circuit affirmed that ruling, but later agreed to rehear the case with a full panel of the court's 16 judges in what's known as a hearing en banc.
In reversing their own decision, the judges found that their interpretation of what constitutes an "actionable adverse employment action" was too limited. Under their new interpretation, a person would only have to show discrimination "because of a protected characteristic, with respect to hiring, firing, compensation, or the 'terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.'"
Michael Maslanka, a law professor at the University of North Texas at Dallas, called the court's ruling a win for workplace rights.
"The rulings that the Fifth Circuit had adhered to on adverse employment action have denied thousands ... of people justice," Maslanka said. "That was corrected today."