Waiting on the Supremes

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Jameka Evans

Meet Jameka Evans, whose case may finally settle whether federal law protects LGBT people from being mistreated at work.

JAMEKA EVANS’ LIFE LOOKS FAIRLY NORMAL AT THE MOMENT. She recently celebrated her 28th birthday and moved from Savannah to the Atlanta area to take care of her ailing grandma. She’s finishing up her bachelor’s degree in criminal justice via an online university. She’s waiting tables at a restaurant at the Atlanta airport. And she still makes time for her beloved creative writing.

You’d never know that she very possibly could become the face of LGBT workplace discrimination before the Supreme Court in just a matter of months.

“That’s a very humbling thought,” she says, “because initially I was just fighting for my individual situation. Then it becomes a situation where you’re fighting for everyone’s rights.”

It all started five years ago when Evans, who is openly gay, began working as a security guard at Savannah’s Georgia Regional Hospital. There, she would experience discrimination because she was a lesbian who wore her hair short and dressed in a traditionally male fashion.

“I remember on breaks just going into work closets and crying because I was so stressed out” from the harassment, she says. “I took the stress home with me every day. I didn’t sleep well. And I dreaded going to work.”

But the lawsuit she filed was dismissed by the District Court, which maintained that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not explicitly protect against sexual orientation or gender stereotyping discrimination under its Title VII.

I remember on breaks just going into work closets and crying because I was so stressed out.

Under Obama, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission issued decisions ruling that Title VII’s prohibition against discriminating against someone because of his or her sex covers anti- LGBT discrimination. But under Trump, the Department of Justice has argued that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation discrimination.

Evans and Lambda Legal appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit (covering cases in Alabama, Florida and Georgia), a three-judge panel of which also denied Evans’ claim this March.

But those judges put Evans’ case at odds with a ruling in April from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (overseeing cases from Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin) that fellow Lambda Legal client Kim Hively of Indiana could proceed under Title VII in her sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit against her former employer, Ivy Tech Community College.

And with two circuit courts in conflict, that means it’s highly possible that the Supreme Court will grant Lambda’s request to hear Evans’ case—and rule on the legality of sexual orientation discrimination once and for all.

“We will continue to press the legally correct argument, recognized by so many other courts,” says Greg Nevins, Director of Lambda Legal’s Employment Fairness Project, who is arguing Evans’ case, “that the Civil Rights Act protects all workers against sexual orientation discrimination occurring because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or trangender, or gender-conforming in particular ways or not.”

Meanwhile, Evans is just trying to go about her life. “I still dress the way I did at the hospital, but I’m not currently dealing with any harassment over it,” she says.

And as someone who grew up in the foster care system herself—and who only recently reunited with her birth mother—she’s passionate about parlaying her criminal justice education into some form of advocacy for young people currently in the system.

“A lot of LGBT youth fall through the cracks and are homeless and forgotten,” she says. “I want to help.”

But she may have to take time out to go the highest court in the land. “It’d be such an honor,” she says simply.

Join Lambda Legal in the next big fight for LGBT rights: protection in the workplace.

  • Sign up at outat.work for Lambda Legal updates about Jameka’s case.
  • Help spread the word by tweeting about the case with #OutAtWork.
  • Contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk at lambdalegal.org/help if you think you are being discriminated against on the job for being LGBT.