Onward To The Supreme Court For Lambda Legal And Client Fired For Being A Lesbian

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July 6, 2017

Today, Lambda Legal announced it will appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit denied its en banc petition asking that the full Court rehear the case of Jameka Evans, a security guard who was harassed at work and effectively terminated from her job because she is a lesbian and doesn’t conform to gender norms in her appearance and demeanor.

This spring, the full Seventh Circuit ruled that Ivy Tech Community College violated the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against Kimberly Hively because she is a lesbian.

In May, the full Second Circuit Court of Appeals granted en banc review in Zarda v. Altitude Express the case of a New York skydiving instructor who was fired from his job because he was gay.

“We plan to take this to the Supreme Court. This extremely troubling decision does not slow the momentum that is building behind our efforts to combat employment discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual workers in the courts,” said Greg Nevins, Counsel and Employment Fairness Strategist for Lambda Legal. 

“We will continue to press the legally correct argument, recognized by so many other courts, that the Civil Rights Act protects all workers against sexual orientation discrimination, whether they are gender-conforming in particular ways or not.”

In April of 2015, Evans filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia against her former employer, Georgia Regional Hospital. The hospital violated Title VII by discriminating against her because of her sexual orientation and her nonconformity with gender norms of appearance and demeanor.

The district court dismissed her complaint, saying that Title VII does not protect her as a lesbian. 

In January of last year, Lambda Legal filed an appeal on Jameka’s behalf, arguing that she must have her day in court because sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and therefore illegal under Title VII, citing rulings by several federal district courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) finding that sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and thereby a prohibited employment practice. 

But, the three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit denied Evans’ claim in early March 2017. Today the full Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has declined to rehear the case.

For years, Lambda Legal has been explaining to courts that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, when properly understood, protects LGBT employees. Three of Lambda Legal’s successful efforts in 2014, in federal courts in Seattle, Chicago, and Washington D.C., were cited by the EEOC in Baldwin v. Foxx. 

In April, the full Seventh Circuit ruled that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation violates federal civil rights law in Lambda Legal’s case on behalf of Kimberly Hively, an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College who was fired for being a lesbian.

Lambda Legal Employment Fairness Project Director Greg Nevins and Staff Attorney Omar Gonzalez-Pagan are the attorneys for both the Hively and Evans cases.

“But until all federal courts recognize that all sexual orientation discrimination is in fact sex discrimination, Congress should do what it did with pregnancy discrimination—pass an amendment to clarify that it is a form of sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act,” added Nevins.

Learn more about employment discrimination and your rights in the workplace here.