Major Federal Court Ruling Protects Gay Workers from Harassment; Lambda Legal Says Decision Will Have Broad National Impact

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September 24, 2002

(San Francisco, Tuesday, September 24, 2002) -- A federal appeals court today said a gay man who was harassed mercilessly by his supervisor and co-workers can sue under a federal sex discrimination law, in a decision Lambda Legal called a “solid victory” for equality in the workplace that will have broad implications.

Medina Rene, a butler who worked serving high-profile guests at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, was subjected to offensive comments and physically harassed on a regular basis by members of the all-male workforce -- who grabbed his crotch and poked their fingers in his anus through his clothing on numerous occasions. The trial court and a panel of the federal appeals court earlier ruled that he could not sue under federal law because Rene had said he was targeted for harassment based on his sexual orientation. In today’s ruling, a majority of the full 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed those decisions.

“The court was clear today that lesbians and gay men are equally protected from sexual harassment on the job - and that harassment based on gender stereotypes is, in fact, sexual harassment that is prohibited by federal civil rights laws,” said Jon Davidson, Lambda Legal’s Senior Counsel, who wrote a friend-of-the-court brief.

“Today’s ruling will impact lesbians and gay men -- and others -- who face harassment and discrimination because they don’t fit what their co-workers or bosses think a man or a woman should be,” Davidson said. “A significant amount of anti-gay harassment is sexual in nature and is rooted in gender stereotypes. This decision will be a powerful tool toward securing equal treatment in the workplace.”

Lambda Legal’s brief in the case argued that an employee’s being gay should not deprive the worker from Title VII’s protections against sexual harassment. The brief, joined by the California Women’s Law Center and the National Employment Lawyers Association, showed that Rene was sexually harassed based on sex because the conduct to which he was subjected inherently involved his “manhood” and because it was based on perceptions that he did not conform to sexual stereotypes.

Today’s ruling says Title VII of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects people from sexual harassment regardless of their sexual orientation. In a concurring opinion, the decision also says gender stereotyping clearly falls under Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination based on sex. The opinion notes that Rene’s co-workers routinely refereed to him as “she” and “her,” and that they mocked him for being “like a woman.”

The case is Rene v. MGM Grand Hotel, No. 98-16924.

Contact: Jon Davidson, 323/937-2728 ext. 228, 310/901-0386 (cell)

Eric Ferrero, 212/809-8585 ext. 227, 888/987-1984 (pager)