Judge dismisses lesbian’s antibias case

A federal judge dismissed the antibias lawsuit filed by an African-American lesbian against Parx Casino on the basis that anti-LGBT workplace bias isn’t prohibited by federal law.

On April 12, Judge Joel H. Slomsky of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania tossed out the case of “Michelle Doe.” But the judge said Doe could refile her lawsuit as a sex-discrimination case if she chooses to do so.

Slomsky noted that sex discrimination in the workplace is banned by Title VII  of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

This week, the Supreme Court announced  it will take up the issue of whether Title VII  bans LGBT workplace bias. In the fall, the high court will hear oral arguments on three cases involving a gay skydiving instructor in New York, a transgender funeral director in Michigan and a gay child-welfare services coordinator in Georgia. The high court is expected to issue a ruling on those cases in June 2020.

Justin F. Robinette, an attorney for Doe, said he plans to ask Slomsky to hold in abeyance Doe’s case until the Supreme Court rules on the other cases. “However the Supreme Court rules, it’s going to affect our case,” Robinette told PGN.

Robinette expressed hope that the Supreme Court will issue a pro-LGBT ruling.

“LGBT bias always involves gender stereotyping, which is a form of sex discrimination,” Robinette said. “We want a clear ruling from the Supreme Court that workplace LGBT bias is covered under Title VII.”

Robinette said the 2nd Circuit and 7th Circuit recently ruled that sexual-orientation discrimination is covered by Title VII. Those circuits encompass the states of Connecticut, New York, Vermont, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin. Robinette also said the 6th Circuit recently ruled that gender-identity discrimination is covered by Title VII. The 6th Circuit encompasses Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee.

But Robinette acknowledged that 10 other circuits have either avoided ruling on the issue or ruled that LGBT workplace bias isn’t covered by Title VII.

Andrew J. Kramer, an attorney for Parx Casino, declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation.

Doe’s lawsuit against Parx Casino was filed in December 2018. She claimed that a hostile workplace made it difficult for her to do her job and eventually resulted in her dismissal.

Doe was employed as a dealer at Parx, based in Bensalem, Bucks County, between December 2017 and August 2018. Coworkers allegedly ostracized her throughout her employment. They would refer to her in derogatory terms, including, “bitch,” “sir” and “baby.” One coworker told Doe she was “dirty” and had a “bald head,” according to the lawsuit.

Doe reported her concerns about working in a hostile environment to management. However, the mistreatment continued, according to her suit.

On Aug. 12, Doe’s employment was suspended after she complained to management about a “negative interaction” with a patron. Details regarding the interaction aren’t included in the lawsuit. On Aug. 13, Doe’s employment was terminated.

Parx “used a negative interaction with a customer as a pretext to terminate [Doe’s] employment, and the real reason for [Doe’s] termination was [Doe’s] sexual orientation (lesbian), and/or others’ negative reactions to [Doe] being openly lesbian,” the lawsuit alleged. “A motivating factor in [Doe’s] discharge was the fact that [Doe’s] co-employees reacted poorly to [Doe] being openly lesbian.”

Her lawsuit sought more than $150,000 in damages, including lost wages, punitive damages, compensation for pain and suffering and reasonable attorney’s fees. The suit also sought a court order to require Parx to implement a company-wide LGBT antibias policy.

A jury trial composed of eight jurors had been requested. 

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.