Family Law Keyed to Weisberg

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Ross v. Stouffer Hotel Co

Citation. Ross v. Stouffer Hotel Co., 72 Haw. 350, 816 P.2d 302, 1991 Haw. LEXIS 45, 72 Fair Empl. Prac. Cas. (BNA) 1611, 58 Empl. Prac. Dec. (CCH) P41,529 (Haw. Aug. 29, 1991)

Brief Fact Summary. Appellant brought suit claiming that his employer’s ban on married couples working together violated a Hawaiian Statute prohibiting discrimination based upon marital status.

Synopsis of Rule of Law. State laws prohibiting discrimination based upon marriage are enforced differently in different states. Some find that employee rules prohibiting married couples from working together are valid because rule is based on who the person married rather than the marital status. Other states find that because the marital status prevents the employment such rules violate state statute.

Facts. Appellant Harvey Ross was hired in 1986 as a massage therapist for Waiohai Hotel. He had been cohabiting with Viviana Treffry, the principal massage for the hotel, for two years. The two married eleven days after he was hired. The manager of the fitness spa knew they had cohabitated and married. Approximately one year later, Stouffer hotels acquired the hotel and enforced their no-spouse rule against Appellant. The rule allowed either party to transfer but they both declined. Appellant was fired, and brought an action claiming the termination violated a Hawaii Statute that declared it to be discriminatory practice for an employer to refuse to hire, discharge, or otherwise discriminate against any individual because of race, sex, age, religion, color, ancestry, physical handicap, marital status, or arrest or court record. The circuit court granted summary judgment on behalf of the employer. Appellant appealed.

Issue. Did the no-spouse rule violate appellant’s rights under the Hawaii discrimination statute?

Held. The Statute prohibits forcing a married couple to choose between marriage and employment absent a statutory exception to the rule.
The employer suggested that they were concerned about the possibility of conflict because appellant’s wife was his superior, and this was the reason for termination. However, the Court believed that the fact of marriage caused the termination.

Many states have determined that such nepotism policies do not violate the prohibition against discrimination due to marital status because the termination results not from marital status but from whom the person married. Other states nave found violations based on the reasoning that it is the marital status that causes termination because by not entering into the marital relationship, or by obtaining a divorce, the disqualification is removed.

Studies have suggested that a flat out prohibition against employees being married violates the prohibition against prohibition, while bona fide occupational qualifications may be upheld. This view supports public policy arguments encouraging marital relationships.

Discussion. Many states have statutes prohibiting discrimination based upon marriage. This Court found that such statutes prohibit rules disqualifying married couples from working together based on public policy.