On December 12, 2017, the Supreme Court refused to hear a case challenging whether Title VII protects employees from sexual orientation discrimination. In Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, Case No. 17-370 (2017), the high court declined to hear Ms. Evans’ appeal, essentially closing the door on her claim and leaving intact a prior appellate court ruling that prevents employees in the Eleventh Circuit from pursuing a claim of sexual orientation discrimination against an employer. The Supreme Court provided no explanation for its decision.
From 2012 to 2013, Jameka Evans worked as a security officer at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah (the “Hospital”). Evans, who describes herself as a gay female, presented herself at work in stereotypically “male” ways—for example, she wore a male uniform, had a short haircut, and wore male shoes. During her time at the Hospital, her supervisors “harassed her because of her perceived homosexuality, and she was otherwise punished because [of her] status as a gay female.” After filing complaints to Human Resources with no changes in working conditions, Evans eventually left her job.
After exhausting her remedies with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Evans filed a pro se complaint against the Hospital, Moss, Clark, and Powers in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia. In her complaint, Evans specifically alleged that she was subjected to workplace discrimination because her “status as a gay female did not conform to gender stereotypes associated with women.”
Prior to service of the complaint, Evans’ case was referred to a magistrate judge. The magistrate recommended that the complaint be dismissed with prejudice for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. In the magistrate’s view, Evans’ claim of discrimination based on her sexual orientation failed because Title VII “was not intended to cover discrimination against homosexuals.” The district court adopted the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation without addressing any of Evans’ objections. The district court then dismissed Evans’ case with prejudice.
Evans appealed, and the EEOC filed a supportive amicus brief, maintaining that sexual orientation discrimination “fall[s] squarely within Title VII’s prohibition against discrimination based on sex.” The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals previously dismissed her claim holding that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. Evans appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Federal Appellate Courts
Federal courts around the country are divided on whether sexual orientation is protected by Title VII. The law does not specifically reference sexual orientation. While some courts, including federal district courts in Pennsylvania have held that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is prohibited as a form of “sex” discrimination, other courts ave refused to recognize such a claim holding that it is up to Congress to change the law.
While the denial of Evans’ appeal means that the issue of employment discrimination because of sexual orientation isn’t to be decided now, it will likely surface again soon. The spotlight of this case was evidenced by some prominent supporters in Evans’ corner urging the Supreme Court to hear Evans’ case back in October of this year. Included among the 76 businesses that filed a brief in October were Facebook, Microsoft, and Starbucks.
California Employment Lawyers
While the lack of clarity from the Supreme Court reveals the lack of standard rights under federal law, many states across the country have laws that protect employees from sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. If you are living in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, or San Diego and you have questions about sexual orientation discrimination or any of California’s employment laws, contact Kingsley & Kingsley to speak with one of our experienced lawyers.
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