Today, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it will not review the Lambda Legal case on behalf of Jameka Evans, a Savannah security guard who was harassed at work and forced from her job because she is a lesbian.
“By declining to hear this case, the Supreme Court is delaying the inevitable and leaving a split in the circuits that will cause confusion across the country,” said Greg Nevins, Employment Fairness Project Director for Lambda Legal. “But this was not a “no” but a “not yet,” and rest assured that Lambda Legal will continue the fight, circuit by circuit as necessary, to establish that the Civil Rights Act prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. The vast majority of Americans believe that LGBT people should be treated equally in the workplace. The public is on the right side of history; it’s unfortunate that the Supreme Court has refused to join us today, but we will continue to invite them to do the right thing and end this hurtful balkanization of the right of LGBT people to be out at work.
“This term will not see the Supreme Court provide a national remedy to stop the pervasive discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace. But don’t despair; if you have experienced discrimination in the workplace, please contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk,” said Nevins. “We urge Congress to pass a federal law explicitly banning discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Several federal courts have affirmed the argument that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, when properly understood, protects LGBT employees. Most notably, the full Seventh Circuit overruled four of its precedents and ruled in April that Lambda Legal client Kimberly Hively could proceed under the Civil Rights Act with her claim that Indiana-based Ivy Tech Community College discriminated against her because she is a lesbian. In September, Lambda Legal argued before the full Second Circuit, which is reexamining two of its precedents in Zarda v. Altitude Express, the case of a New York skydiving instructor who was fired from his job because he was gay. No ruling has been issued yet in Zarda.
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, arguing that the hospital violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against her because of her sexual orientation and her nonconformity with gender norms of appearance and demeanor. The district court dismissed the case. In January of last year, Lambda Legal filed an appeal on Evans’ behalf, arguing that she must have her day in court, 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. On March 10, 2017, a three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit held that it was compelled by a 1979 ruling to reject Evans’ sexual orientation discrimination claim. Lambda Legal asked the whole court to rehear the case so that it could reexamine the 1979 precedent, but unlike the Seventh Circuit and Second Circuit, the full Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals declined to rehear the case on July 6. Citing a clear conflict among the circuits, Lambda Legal filed a petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review the case. Today, the Supreme Court denied review.
Evans is part of Lambda Legal’s efforts to establish and enforce employment discrimination protection for all LGBT people and everyone living with HIV. In addition to the sexual orientation cases, these efforts include an historic win for transgender workplace rights in Glenn v. Brumby and the current lawsuit Karnoski v. Trumpchallenging the ban on transgender troops. Lambda Legal also launched Out at Work, a campaign to support Jameka Evans in her pursuit for justice, bring awareness to LGBT people everywhere of their Title VII rights, and assert that all people have the right to a job with dignity, free from repercussions for who they are or whom they love.
Lambda Legal Employment Fairness Project Director Greg Nevins is the lead attorney for both the Hively and Evans cases. The attorneys on the Evans certiorari petition are Nevins, Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, Karen Loewy and Professors Pamela S. Karlan and Jeffrey L. Fisher of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.
The case is Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital.
More information about Lambda Legal’s work on employment protections is available here: http://www.lambdalegal.org/issues/employment-and-rights-in-the-workplace