Federal court rules against Georgia lesbian fired for being gay

The U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday afternoon affirmed a lower district court’s ruling dismissing the lawsuit of Jameka Evans, a Savannah security guard who was forced to leave her job because she is a lesbian. Attorneys from Lambda Legal, who are representing Evans in the case, say they will now seek a rehearing by the full panel of 11 judges of the Eleventh Circuit.

The case, Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, is the latest Title VII case, in which LGBT and progressive legal groups argue that discrimination based on their client’s sexual orientation should be ruled a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which includes a provision that prohibits discrimination based on the sex of an individual. The Eleventh Circuit agreed with Lambda Legal’s argument in 2011 that the Georgia General Assembly violated Title VII when Vandy Beth Glenn was fired for being transgender.

Evans filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of Georgia in April 2015, arguing that Georgia Regional 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 Evans’ complaint, arguing that Title VII doesn’t protect employees from such discrimination. Lambda Legal filed an appeal with the Eleventh Circuit last January and then argued their case at a hearing before a three-judge panel last December.

Judge William Pryor, concurring with Friday’s majority opinion and disagreeing with the 2011 opinion he joined in the Glenn case, said, “Because a claim of gender nonconformity is a behavior-based claim, not a status-based claim, a plaintiff still ‘must show that the employer actually relied on her gender in making its decision.’”

Judge Robin S. Rosenbaum argued in the dissent, agreeing with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and several district courts that discrimination against a lesbian by an employer because she fails to meet their view of what a woman should look or act like is sex discrimination, and therefore a Title VII violation.

“I also note that logic is on my side,” Judge Rosenbaum said. “Of course, the concurrence is free to ignore my analysis rather than respond to it, but that doesn’t make it go away.”

Lambda Legal said this case is not over yet.

“This is not the end of the road for us and certainly not for Jameka,” said Greg Nevins, employment fairness project director for Lambda Legal in a statement. “Keeping your job shouldn’t depend on whether or not you pass for straight. There is no way to draw a line between sexual orientation discrimination and discrimination based on gender nonconformity because not being straight is gender-nonconforming, period. 90 percent of Americans believe that LGBT people should be treated equally in the workplace. The public is on the right side of history, and it’s time for the Eleventh Circuit to join us.”

Read the Eleventh Circuit Court’s decision below.