Attorneys for a Georgia woman who claims she lost her hospital job because of her sexual orientation have filed suit with the United States Supreme Court, setting up another potential landmark case about discrimination.
Lambda Legal, a gay rights advocacy group, and Stanford law professors Jeffrey Fisher and Pamela Karlan filed their petition with the Court on Thursday morning. The move had been expected since July, when Lambda Legal said it would appeal Jameka Evans’ case, Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital.
Evans had lost her plea at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit after she claimed a 1964 law known as Title VII extended its protection against to her in a sexual discrimination dispute related to her workplace.
Evans alleged that hospital supervisors discriminated against her because, in her work as a security guard, she dressed in a male uniform and had her hair cut short. Evans’ attorneys said her employers “harassed her because of her perceived homosexuality, and she was otherwise punished because [of her] status as a gay female.”
A divided Eleventh Circuit Court rejected Evans’ case, citing a binding 1979 circuit precedent that said, “[d]ischarge for homosexuality is not prohibited by Title VII.”
However, in April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit became the first federal appeals court since 1964 to rule that Title VII is meant to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Seventh Circuit court ruled in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College that a part-time Indiana professor who claimed to have been fired because she is a lesbian could sue under Title VII. The Seventh Circuit cited the landmark decision of Loving v. Virginia among the precedents it used in reaching its decision.
Evans’ legal team says the split between the two circuit courts should compel the Supreme Court to take her appeal. “The Eleventh Circuit’s 2-1 decision here cements the conflict with the Seventh Circuit and ensures that only this Court can resolve it,” they argue.
At least four of the nine Supreme Court Justices would need to accept the case in private conference for the appeal to advance. When analyzing Evans’ case in July, Constitution Daily contributor Lyle Denniston noted that the Court seemed interested in the Title VII issue recently.
“Last term, the Supreme Court showed it was interested in the transgender question under Title VII, when it agreed to hear the case of a transgender high school student who had been denied the use of the boys’ bathroom because he had been assigned female gender at birth,” Dennsiton noted.
But that case was sent back to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit after the Trump Administration abandoned the Obama Administration’s view that Title IX (another federal law) did protect transgender people from discrimination.
Scott Bomboy is the editor in chief of the National Constitution Center.