U.S. Supreme Court rejects case of Atlanta woman fired for being gay

The U.S. Supreme Court refused on Monday to hear the case of Jameka Evans, an Atlanta woman harassed and then fired from her job for being a lesbian.

Attorneys for Lambda Legal, which is representing Evans, appealed her case to the high court in September. On Monday, the court announced that it will not review it.

"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," Greg Nevins, the Employment Fairness Project Director for Lambda Legal in Atlanta, said in a prepared statement.

By refusing to hear the case, Nevins added, the Supreme Court is "delaying the inevitable" and leaving a split among appeals courts "that will cause confusion across the country."

Nevins said the LGBT legal organization will continue its fight.

“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," he said.

Evans was fired from her job as a security guard at Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah in 2013 and sued in 2015. Attorneys for Evans (photo) argued that the hospital violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by discriminating against her on the basis of her sexual orientation and her nonconformity with gender norms and appearances.

"During my term of employment, I endured harassment and denial of equal pay and retaliation simply because of my sexual orientation and lifestyle. There is where my fight began and hopefully it will end at the Supreme Court," Evans said during a press conference earlier this year.

In September 2015, a federal judge ruled that sexual orientation was not a protected class under Title VII and dismissed the lawsuit without holding a hearing. 

In December 2016, Lambda Legal argued that the case should proceed during a hearing before a three-judge panel of the Atlanta-based 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. On March 10, the court ruled 2 to 1 against Evans. In July, the court refused to rehear the case, which prompted the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

In September, Nevins said the case would allow the Supreme Court to settle a "stark split" between judicial circuits on the issue of whether federal law protects LGBT from employment discrimination.

In April, the full Seventh Circuit ruled that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation violates federal civil rights law. That decision came in Lambda's case representing Kimberly Hively, an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College who was fired for being a lesbian. In June, the Second Circuit agreed to rehear Zarda v. Altitude Express, which is the case of a New York skydiving instructor who was fired from his job because he was gay. Yet in Evans' case, the 11th Circuit disagreed.

“This term will not see the Supreme Court provide a national remedy to stop the pervasive discrimination against LGBT people in the workplace," Nevins said Monday.