Court asked to expand discrimination protections to gays, lesbians

Plaintiff Jameka Evans and Lambda Legal attorney Greg Nevins. (Courtesy of Lambda Legal)

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Plaintiff Jameka Evans and Lambda Legal attorney Greg Nevins. (Courtesy of Lambda Legal)

The federal appeals court in Atlanta was asked Thursday to expand workplace discrimination protections to members of the LGBT community.

The potential landmark case was argued on behalf of Jameka Evans, a former security guard at Georgia Regional Hospital. She sued the hospital last year, alleging it harassed and fired her because she is a lesbian. A federal judge dismissed her suit on grounds the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The appeal was argued before a three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Georgia Regional chose not to present its arguments, leaving only Lambda Legal attorney Greg Nevins and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission attorney to argue on Evans’ behalf.

At the outset, Judge Bill Pryor noted that a 1979 decision issued by the court, and which said sexual orientation claims are not recognized, is binding precedent.

“It looks to me we’re bound by that precedent on that point,” Pryor said.

Nevins disagreed. “This court can, and must, revisit that,” he said. “I think this court should reassess that decision.”

Judge Robin Rosenbaum appeared to agree with Nevins that the 11th Circuit can recognize sexual orientation clams. The third judge, visiting judge Jose Martinez, did not ask any questions.

Evans, who lives in Savannah, attended the arguments.

“I’m confident and I hope that everything will go well,” she said.