Georgia lesbian takes potentially historic case to federal court
Jameka Evans appealing ruling in discrimination case against Georgia Regional Hospital
By PATRICK SAUNDERS
A downtown Atlanta courtroom was the scene of a Dec. 15 hearing in a case that could change the landscape for LGBT employees across the country. A panel of three judges with the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Lambda Legal’s case on behalf of Jameka Evans, a Savannah security guard who was forced to leave her job because she is a lesbian. The Eleventh Circuit is a federal court with jurisdiction over the district courts in Georgia, Florida and Alabama.
Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital is the latest Title VII case, in which (typically) LGBT and progressive legal groups like Lambda Legal and the ACLU 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.
“The overall news is I think we’ll win — eventually,” said Greg Nevins, Lambda Legal Counsel and Workplace Fairness Program Director, in comments following the hearing. “This was just to get her day in court.”
Chai Feldblum, a commissioner with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was on hand as well, saying, “When the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, it should have been clear right there that it covered gay people and trans people.” Feldblum, who is the EEOC’s first openly lesbian commissioner, added that when it comes to getting LGBT people covered under Title VII, “we are now in an era of legal correction.”
Landmark interracial marriage ruling cited
Evans filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District Court “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. I’m here today because I believe you shouldn’t be afraid of being fired simply because of who you are and who you love.” 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.
In her complaint, Evans alleged that she was targeted by her workplace supervisor “for termination due to the fact that [she] do[es] not carry [her]self in a traditional woman manner” and because she is a self-described “gay female” and “… it is evident [she] identif[ies] with the male gender because [she] presented [her]self visually (male uniform, low male haircut, shoes, etc.).” Evans further alleged that she was “punished because [her] status as a gay female did not conform to [her] department head’s … gender stereotypes associated with women.”
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 in January, stating in their brief that the district court’s ruling must be reversed because the court’s conclusion that Evans cannot bring a Title VII claim based on discrimination against her due to her sexual orientation, gender-nonconforming appearance and demeanor conflicts with decisions of the Supreme Court, the Eleventh Circuit court and other federal courts, and the EEOC.
“Numerous Supreme Court cases hold … that Title VII is violated when an employee suffers mistreatment that would not have occurred had the employee been of the other sex,” Lambda Legal stated in Evans’ appeal. “It is now settled law that Title VII prohib- its discrimination based on gender-nonconformity and there is no justification for immunizing such discrimination if the gender non-conforming trait is an employee’s attraction to those of the same sex rather than a different sex. Even more fundamentally, when a woman is fired for her romantic interest in women while men are not, it is plain that discrimination ‘because of such individual’s … sex’ has occurred.”
Evans’ attorneys also cited the court’s landmark decision Loving v. Virginia, which held that discrimination against an employee in an interracial marriage is discrimination based on the employee’s race.
“Because Title VII treats all covered traits the same, discrimination against a woman in a relationship with a woman must be discrimination because of her sex if she would not have been treated adversely if her relationship had been with a man,” the appeal stated.
‘It is sex stereotyping and against the law’
Thursday’s hearing was the group’s first crack at arguing their case in federal court. Georgia Regional Hospital chose not to present its arguments.
“For too long, LGBT employees have been forced to hide who they are at work for fear of backlash and discrimination. It is time for employers to recognize that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination, and is unlawful,” Nevins said in a statement issued after the hearing. “Georgia Regional Hospital targeted Jameka Evans for harassment and eventually forced her out of her job because she is a lesbian who doesn’t fit an employer’s stereotype about who women are — that is sex stereotyping and against the law.”
Evans said, “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. 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. I’m here today because I believe you shouldn’t be afraid of being fired simply because of who you are and who you love.”
It is unclear when the three-judge panel will issue its ruling.
December 23, 2016