A downtown Atlanta courtroom was the scene Thursday of a 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 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.
“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.”
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 in January and Thursday’s hearing was the group’s first crack at arguing their case in federal court.
“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.”