One month ago, the Supreme Court declined to hear Jameka Evans’s case. Jameka, who is a lesbian, argued that her employer, Georgia Regional Hospital, fired her because of her sexual orientation and nonconformity to gender norms of appearance and demeanor. The high court’s decision to not take up this issue unburdened them of a weighty, contentious ruling… but at what cost? In reality, SCOTUS passed on an opportunity to reiterate the importance of employee protections for ALL, in the middle of a vital national conversation about the impact of biased power structures and discrimination in the workplace.
Brave women across the country are coming forward to share their experiences facing harassment and professional setbacks because of their gender. This is a movement of truth, self-determination, and refusal to continue with the status quo that has created a toxic work environment for so many; but many LGBTQ employees also have their own #metoo stories. While we as a nation grapple with what it means to truly change and stop discriminatory and sexist behavior, we must not forget Jameka and those in the LGBTQ community who have lost their jobs or missed a promotion, faced humiliation, abuse or worse at work, because of who they are.
SCOTUS’ decision to refuse Jameka’s case, without explanation, was not only out-of-touch and cowardly – it was harmful. According to the Human Rights Campaign, more than half (53%) of LGBT employees choose to hide their sexual orientation in their workplace, while 62% reported hearing anti-LGBT jokes or slurs at their office. Nearly one in ten have left a job because they felt the environment was unwelcoming to their identity. Transgender Americans face unemployment rates three times greater than the national average, with 80% of transgender employees stating they have experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, or have taken steps to avoid it.
By refusing to hear this case, the Supreme Court affirmed that they are not ready to support universal protections for all employees. The same systems and norms that oppress and victimize women in offices across the country are also responsible for oppressing the LGBT community. The two are inextricably linked. So when the court chose to ignore Jameka, they chose to ignore countless others who are standing up for the equality and justice they deserve every day as they earn a living.
America is experiencing a fundamental shift in our understanding of employee rights. Reckoning and change will continue to flow through our workplaces, with or without the Supreme Court. However, we must remember that all who face these barriers in their professional lives are far more powerful as one united force.
*Please visit the Mark E. Curry Family Foundation (mecff.org) to help Puerto Ricans impacted by Hurricane Maria. Mark E. Curry is a leading entrepreneur, philanthropist and impact investor. Curry founded SOL Partners in Puerto Rico in 2012, and in January 2017 completed acquisition of NotiCel.