Are Homophobic Comments Evidence Of A Discriminatory Termination?
Throughout the past twenty years, our Citrus County, Florida employment discrimination lawyers have fought for the rights of employment discrimination victims. Having decades of experience representing employment discrimination victims, our Inverness, Florida employment discrimination lawyers know that gay and lesbian employees are frequently subjected to homophobic comments in the workplace. In many cases, the homophobic comments are made by managers or supervisors who are involved in the decision to terminate gay or lesbian employees. In this article, our Citrus County, Florida employment discrimination lawyers explain how the alleged facts in Cherry v. Premier Prints, Inc., Case No. 1:21-cv-59 (N.D. Miss. Aug. 22, 2022) illustrate that homophobic comments can be used as evidence to establish that a gay or lesbian employee was unlawfully fired because of sexual orientation in violation of federal employment discrimination law.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination Is Unlawful
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sex. For decades, federal courts interpreted Title VII in such a manner as to not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, 140 S.Ct. 1731 (2020) that discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status constitutes unlawful discrimination on the basis of sex in violation of Title VII. Based on the landmark decision in Bostock, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status is now actionable under Title VII. Consequently, when an employer subjects an employee to an adverse employment action because of the employee’s sexual orientation, the employer has unlawfully discriminated against the employee in violation of Title VII.
Sexual Orientation Discrimination Lawsuit
In Cherry, a man named Cherry brought a sexual orientation lawsuit against his former employer, Premier Prints, Inc. (Premier), pursuant to Title VII. Cherry, who is homosexual, contends that he was laid off from his employment because of his sexual orientation in violation of Title VII.
Cherry began his employment with Premier in November 1996. Throughout his employment, Cherry held numerous positions with the company. In 2004 or 2005, Cherry became both the General Manager and the Sales Manager. In September 2019, Cherry married his husband. Cherry contends that, prior to September 2019, nobody at Premier knew that he was homosexual and that, once word of his marriage spread across the company, everyone “seemed shocked.” Cherry claims that he was scared to reveal his sexual orientation to anyone at Premier because he knew the president of the company, Zeke, had a negative opinion of homosexuals.
Cherry maintains that Zeke made homophobic comments throughout Cherry’s employment with the company. For example, Cherry claims that Zeke remarked, “Should I turn queer or get a sex change?” Cherry also claims that Zeke would take fabric samples and hold them in front of his genitals and say, “Do you like the samples now?” According to Cherry, after everyone at the company learned of his marriage to another man, his fears about Zeke and others learning about his sexual orientation ultimately became a reality. Cherry testified that his relationship with Zeke changed drastically after Zeke learned of his marriage—in particular, he testified that, despite previously having enjoyed a good relationship with Zeke, they rarely communicated from that point forward.
In April 2020, Zeke and another owner advised Cherry that he was being laid off. Premier contends that Cherry was laid off because of poor work performance. During his deposition, Zeke testified that Cherry’s work performance had been “going down” for seven years. Zeke, however, admitted that Premier did not have any documentary evidence regarding Cherry’s allegedly poor work performance. Cherry was never rehired by Premier.
Evidence Of Wrongful Termination
Premier filed a motion with the trial court seeking dismissal of Cherry’s sexual orientation discrimination claim. In moving for dismissal, Premier claimed that the evidence established that the decision to lay Cherry off was based purely on his work performance issues and not his sexual orientation. The trial court denied Premier’s motion for dismissal and ruled that Cherry had presented sufficient evidence to establish that he was laid off because of his sexual orientation in violation of Title VII to proceed to a jury trial.
In denying Premier’s motion for dismissal, the trial court focused on the alleged homophobic remarks by Zeke. The trial court explained that Zeke’s alleged homophobic remarks “show an animosity towards homosexual persons, and it cannot be seriously disputed that Zeke, as part owner of the company, was primarily responsible for the challenged employment action.” The trial court also pointed out Cherry contends that his allegedly poor performance was never discussed with him and that Premier “has no documentation whatsoever indicating the same despite . . . allegedly having experienced employment issues with Cherry for years.” Based on this evidence, the trial court concluded, “a reasonable jury could find that Cherry’s sexual orientation played a role” in the decision to lay Cherry off.
Citrus County, FL Discrimination Lawyers
Based in Ocala, Florida and representing workers throughout Florida, our sexual harassment attorneys in Citrus County, Florida have dedicated their practice to fighting for the rights of employment discrimination victims. If you have experienced sexual orientation discrimination at work or have questions about your rights as a victim of sexual orientation discrimination, please contact our office for a free consultation with our employment discrimination lawyers in Citrus County, Florida. Our employee rights law firm takes employment discrimination cases on a contingency fee basis. This means that there are no attorney’s fees incurred unless there is a recovery and our attorney’s fees come solely from the monetary award that you recover.