Metro Weekly

Corporate America backs lesbian’s request for Supreme Court hearing

Jameka Evans believes she was fired for not conforming to gender stereotypes

Jameka Evans – Photo courtesy of Lambda Legal.

Over 70 major companies have signed onto a “friend of the court brief” supporting Jameka Evans, a former security guard at Georgia Regional Hospital, who accuses her former employer of workplace discrimination.

Evans was harassed and eventually fired from her job because of her failure to conform to gender stereotypes in appearance and demeanor. She sued in court, alleging that the hospital violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals previously dismissed her lawsuit, claiming that Title VII does not protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation. Evans subsequently appealed to the Supreme Court, and is asking them to hear her case, ideally ruling that Title VII applies to gay, lesbian and bisexual people.

“The 76 businesses and organizations that join this brief share an interest in equality because they know that ending discrimination in the workplace is good for business, their employees, and the U.S. economy as a whole,” the amicus brief reads. “These businesses and organizations are committed to giving everyone the opportunity to earn a living, excel in their profession, and provide for their family free from fear of unequal treatment.

“Amici support the notion that no one should be passed over for a job, paid less, fired, or subject to harassment or any other form of discrimination based on nothing more than their sexual orientation, which is inherently sex-based,” the brief adds. “Creating workplaces in which employees are and feel safe from discrimination frees them to do their best work, with substantial benefits for their employers.”

“These companies are sending a powerful message to LGBTQ workers and their families that America’s leading businesses believe in equality,” said Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, which helped organize the brief along with several other LGBTQ organizations. 

“Across the country, corporate leaders are speaking out because they know attacking LGBTQ employees isn’t just shameful — it also puts the families of their employees and customers at risk. LGBTQ people like Jameka are entitled to the full protection of the law, and must be affirmed, respected and protected in their workplace and beyond,” Warbelow added.

Signatories to the brief include Airbnb, American Airlines, Ben & Jerry’s, CBS, Cigna Health, Deutsche Bank, eBay, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Lyft, PayPal Holdings, Starbucks, the Tampa Bay Rays Baseball organization, Uber, and Viacom.

Lambda Legal has also been involved in organizing two other amicus briefs, one signed by several prominent legal scholars and a second signed by top LGBTQ organizations, including, among others, the Human Rights Campaign, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, Freedom for All Americans, the Legal Aid Society, and the Trevor Project. 

The Evans case is particularly interesting because the 11th Circuit’s decision conflicts with a finding by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that Title VII does provide protections for people discriminated against because of their sexual orientation, finding that there was little difference between that type of discrimination and instances where discrimination is based on sex.

In that case, the 7th Circuit found that Ivy Tech Community College discriminated against adjunct professor Kimberly Hively when it refused her promotions and tenure after her supervisor discovered she was in a relationship with a woman.

If the Supreme Court grants “cert,” or agrees to hear Evans’ case, it will have to resolve the conflict between the 11th and 7th Circuits by determining how far-reaching Title VII’s prohibitions on “sex-based discrimination” are.

“It’s time for LGBT people everywhere to be protected against employment discrimination. The ability to put a roof over your head and feed your family is one of the most basic needs, and freedom from discrimination is an essential part of that,” Lambda Legal CEO Rachel Tiven said in a statement. “We need the highest court in the land to review this case, consider the vital rights at stake, and settle the issue once and for all to ensure that getting or keeping a  job shouldn’t depend on your sexual orientation.”

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John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com