The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday morning that it will not review the case of Jameka Evans, the Georgia woman who claims she was harassed in the workplace and fired from her security officer position at Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah because she is a lesbian and wears her hair in an androgynous style. Lambda Legal was seeking a nationwide ruling affirming that sexual orientation discrimination violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, and the court’s decision was among the most hotly anticipated ones in a term filled with potentially momentous LGBT rights cases.
“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, in a press release. “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,” Nevins continued. “We urge Congress to pass a federal law explicitly banning discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”
Other LGBT rights groups weighed in upon the court’s announcement.
“The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear Evans is a disappointing, missed opportunity to address the split among federal appellate courts and clarify that discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation is illegal under current law,” said Masen Davis, CEO of Freedom for All Americans, in a statement. “In today’s society, it seems nothing can be a clearer example of sex stereotyping than discriminating against a woman like Jameka because she does not date men or dress in a traditionally feminine manner. Employees should be judged only on their work performance and never singled out based on who they are or who they love.”
Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said, “We are deeply disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision refusing to review the Evans case this term. Despite rulings by several federal courts saying that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people are covered by Title VII anti-discrimination protections, not all courts have agreed. By refusing to hear this important case, the Supreme Court is delaying the inevitable fix and leaving the civil rights of LGB people to be inconsistently applied according to conflicting rulings by circuit courts. This further underscores the need for Congress to pass the Equality Act to provide consistent and explicit non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people across all civil rights laws.”
Evans filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court of Georgia in April 2015.
“My supervisor at Georgia Regional Hospital did not like that I was a lesbian who didn’t fit his stereotype of how a woman should look,” Evans said in a prior statement. “It is heartbreaking to know that no matter how good I was at my job, being a lesbian with a short haircut meant I would never be good enough.”
The US District Court in Georgia dismissed Evans’s complaint, claiming Title VII does not offer gender-based protections. In December 2015, Lambda Legal filed an appeal on Evans’ behalf, citing rulings by several federal district courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that show sexual orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination and therefore is “a prohibited employment practice.” In March 2017, the three-judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit denied Evans’ claim. Lambda Legal then asked the whole Eleventh Circuit court to rehear the case, but the request was denied.
In September, Lambda Legal filed the petition asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review Evans’ case. The following month, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Starbucks and Viacom joined 71 other companies in an amicus (“friend of the court”) brief supporting Evans’ case.