LGBT Employees Just Scored a Major Win in Missouri

LGBT Missourians achieved a quiet but substantial victory this week when the state’s appeals court ruled that anti-gay discrimination is illegal, despite the state’s lack of a specific LGBT anti-discrimination law.

The Missouri Court of Appeals Western District issued a ruling on Tuesday, October 24, stating that discrimination originating from sexual stereotypes amounts to sex discrimination — and as a result, it is actionable under Missouri law.

The ruling arises from a 2014 case in which two former employees of the state’s Department of Social Services attempted to sue the agency. Employee Harold Lampley claimed he had been discriminated against because of his sexual orientation–specifically because he had failed to live up to the sex expectations and stereotypes held by his boss. Rene Frost, Lampley’s coworker, claimed that she was also discriminated against because of her association with Lampley.

However, the Missouri Commission on Human Rights rejected the action, claiming it did not have the ability to take up the case because the state does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.

On Tuesday, a three-panel group of judges disagreed with this decision, insisting that the treatment alleged by the plaintiffs amounts to sex discrimination. They explained that making this case actionable “simply recognizes the manifold ways sex discrimination manifests itself.”

But this case does not decide the issue of whether sex discrimination took place. The ruling only says that action to investigate this claim can now move forward. And now, the Missouri Commission is compelled to issue a document allowing the action to proceed.

On the face of it, this might seem to be a small matter. However, the decision amounts to a definable win for all Missourians — and particularly LGBT people.

“If the employer mistreats a male employee because the employer deems the employee insufficiently masculine, it is immaterial whether the male employee is gay or straight,” Judge Anthony Gabbert wrote for the court. “The prohibition against sex discrimination extends to all employees, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.”

Like many states in the United States, Missouri has never extended its anti-discrimination law to cover LGBT people. And that means that under the state constitution it is technically legal to make firing and hiring decisions based on someone’s perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity — at least, it was.

A few years ago, the Obama administration began advancing the idea that federal laws like the Civil Rights Act extend to sexual orientation and gender identity. Officials argued that while Congress may not have specifically had these classes in mind, failing to meet sex/gender expectations is at the heart of both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination.

Several federal courts have since agreed with this notion, noting that discrimination on the grounds of LGBT identity is a particular, but nevertheless recognizable, form of sex discrimination. And the Constitution guards against people being treated differently on grounds of their identity.

While that argument has never been explicitly stated at the Supreme Court level, these lower court rulings have been further supported by cases like Windsor v. United States and  Obergefell v. Hodges. Though related to marriage rights, the cases affirmed the dignity of LGBT persons and upheld the fact that these individuals must be treated equally under the law.

The Trump administration has tried to walk back on those protections, of course. For instance, the Department of Justice argued in federal court that there is a religious right to discriminate against gay and trans people, while the White House itself has worked at stripping official guidance protecting LGBT people in sectors like the workplace and in education.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration is packing vacant judiciary positions with decidedly anti-LGBT conservative judges with a record of opposing any reading of current law that is LGBT-inclusive. It’s critical, then, to affirm an inclusive legal position before those judges can put up roadblocks — and that’s why the Missouri appeals court ruling is important.

The court’s ruling does not hinge on federal law but rather the state’s own legal landscape, yet it displays the same thinking that was expressed under the Obama administration: If we seek to protect people from sex discrimination, we cannot pick and choose what is acceptable sex discrimination based on narrow gender roles. That defeats the purpose of the protection in the first place.

Obviously this ruling has limited power and could still be modified by the courts, but it adds to the growing consensus that anti-LGBT discrimination is not permitted under federal or state law.

Photo Credit: Midia NINJA/Flickr

54 comments

DAVID fleming
DAVID fleming6 days ago

Good news

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Peggy B
Peggy B1 months ago

TYFS

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donald Baumgartner
donald Baumgartner1 months ago

Good News !!!!!

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Beth M
Beth M1 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M1 months ago

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Beth M
Beth M1 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M1 months ago

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Beth M
Beth M1 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M1 months ago

ty

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Beth M
Beth M1 months ago

ty

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