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LGBTQ Rights and the Workplace

Title VII protects employees from discrimination in the workplace based on sex, race, national origin, and religion, but it remains unclear what protection from “sex” discrimination really means. As it turns out, this topic is presently being hotly debated, with many calling for the protected class to encompass one’s sexual orientation, rather than just gender. In fact, there is currently a split among circuit courts on whether sexual orientation is protected by Title VII or not. Most recently, in what some are calling a setback for LGBTQ rights, the Supreme Court has decided not to hear a Georgia case, Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, in which a woman claims she was harassed and ultimately terminated from her job at a hospital due to the fact that she is a lesbian. “During my term of employment, I endured harassment and denial of equal pay and retaliation simply because of my sexual orientation and lifestyle,” Evans said.

Evans ultimately sought for the district court to rule that the hospital violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against her on the basis of her sexual orientation. The district court dismissed her case, arguing Title VII does not protect employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Evans appealed this decision to the Eleventh Circuit who, again, denied her claim. Finally, Evans petitioned the Supreme Court, seeking a nationwide ruling that sexual orientation is one of the protected classes under Title VII. And what’s more- Evans had strong support for this argument, as 76 major U.S. companies, including Apple, Facebook, Starbucks, and Google, signed an amicus brief, or “friend of the court” brief, showing their support for Evans and the LGBTQ movement.

While the Supreme Court denied this petition, it’s unlikely this is the last they will be hearing about the issue. In fact, with the circuit split, it almost seems inevitable. Indeed, another similar case, Zarda v. Altitude Express, right here in New York is set to be decided soon. In Zarda, a Long Island skydiving instructor alleges he was fired for being gay. More specifically, in 2010, Donald Zarda claims he was fired from his job after telling a female client he was “100 percent gay” after she suggested she was uncomfortable being strapped to a man before a jump. While Zarda sadly passed away in a skydiving accident in Switzerland in 2014, this did not stop his sister and longtime partner, Bill Moore, from bringing the case. The case is set to be decided by a panel of 13 appellate judges in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, but no matter the outcome, it is likely the decision will be again appealed, with LGBTQ advocates hoping the Supreme Court will hear the case before Justice Anthony Kennedy retires from the bench.

One thing is for sure-the Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Evans’ case is certainly not the end for LGBTQ rights in the workplace.
By Haleigh Amant December 18, 2017

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