Lambda Fights for Fired Lesbian Journalist's Day in Court
(LOS ANGELES, August 3, 1999) -- In a case highlighting the need to clarify California's employment protections for lesbian and gay workers, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Tuesday that it will seek to reinstate a discrimination suit on behalf of a lesbian journalist fired because of anti-gay bias.
During argument on Wednesday, August 4, in Frazier v. Palisadian-Post Lambda will urge the California Court of Appeal to reverse a trial court that refused to hear evidence and dismissed the discrimination complaint based on a common misunderstanding of the law.
The case involves Cynthia Frazier, who for six years was an associate editor of the Palisadian Post, a weekly newspaper in Pacific Palisades. Despite several merit raises and favorable annual reviews, Frazier was fired in 1993 after pervasive harassment, including being taunted and passed over for a promotion, that commenced when her supervisor saw vacation pictures of Frazier and her partner.
"Cindy performed her duties extremely well until the anti-gay harassment became unbearable. She deserves her day in court. But because the discrimination she experienced was based on her sexual orientation, she is not receiving what all workers expect -- the best protections the state can provide," said Jennifer C. Pizer, managing attorney of Lambda's Western Regional Office, who will present argument on Frazier's behalf.
Pizer added, "Her case starkly illustrates how anti-gay bias claims are not treated like other forms of workplace discrimination, and points to the statewide need to fortify protections against sexual-orientation discrimination."
California workers are protected by the state Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) against discrimination on the basis of various characteristics such as race, sex, disability, and religion, but not sexual orientation. Lesbians and gay men must look to different protections in the state Labor Code to address anti-gay bias in the workplace.
Ruling that Frazier did not file a timely complaint with the California Labor Commissioner, the Los Angeles County Superior Court dismissed her claim in 1998. However, this decision was erroneously based on case law interpreting FEHA which, unlike the Labor Code, first requires exhaustion of administrative remedies.
FEHA comes with a comprehensive system of administrative enforcement that dwarfs that of the Labor Code, and allows individuals one full year to file a complaint. By contrast, the Labor Code, under which administrative filings are optional, imposes a mere 30-day window on them.
"The trial court mixed apples with oranges in its ruling. It is simply a misreading of the law to require lesbian and gay Californians to abide by the administrative requirements of FEHA, when they don't enjoy the more defined protections that Act affords," said Pizer, adding that gay workers also deserve a full year to file complaints.
Lambda Executive Director Kevin M. Cathcart stressed the urgent need to clarify California law. "Every year, Lambda receives more distress calls about employment-related discrimination than about any other single problem. For Cindy Frazier and other gay Californians, it is vital that the court make the best use of available protections against anti-gay discrimination in the workplace," he said.
WHAT: Argument heard in Frazier v. Palisadian Post WHERE: California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Five; 300 South Spring Street, Los Angeles WHEN: Wednesday, August 4 at 9 a.m.
Contact: Jennifer C. Pizer 323-937-2728 x 223; Peg Byron 212-809-8585 x 230, 888-987-1984 (pager)