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- Created: 01 November 2015 01 November 2015
A man in Missouri has lost his workplace discrimination case – and campaigners are saying that it’s again shows the need for a federal Equality Act to protect LGBT people from employment harassment.
In his claim, James Pittman says he experienced seven years of discrimination at Cook Paper Recycling Corp because of his sexuality. The harassment he experienced included being called a ‘cocksucker’ and being asked if he had AIDS, he says. He claims co-workers also mocked him when they found out his relationship with his partner had ended.
Cook Paper Recycling, in a statement to Gay Star Business, have denied this version of events. They say they have been the victims of hate as a result.
Pittman was fired in 2011 and sued the company for discrimination. He lost the case but took the case to appeal.
There has been no ruling to decide if the abuse and harassment actually took place.
But last week, Missouri’s Western District Court of Appeals ruled against Pittman and said that it was unable to support his claim because the state offered no protection to employees because of their sexuality.
‘Because the Missouri Human Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation we affirm the circuit court’s judgment dismissing Pittman’s petition for failure to state a claim.’
Pittman’s lawyers had argued that the discrimination he experienced should be viewed as a case of sex discrimination, as included in the Missouri Human Rights Act, as he would not have been subject to the abuse if he were a woman. The judges disagreed.
Judge James Edward Welsh noted in his ruling that the court was sympathetic to Pittman’s situation, but: ‘we are bound by the state of the law as it currently exists. Without the legislative addition of “sexual orientation” to the statutory list of protected statuses, the Missouri Human Rights Act does not prohibit discrimination based upon a person’s sexual orientation.’
Last week, the Movement Advancement Project (MAP) released data showing that only half of the US population lived in areas protected by LGBT employment discrimination protections.
Ineke Mushovic, Executive Director of MAP, told Think Progress, that it was ‘shocking that a worker can be fired solely because he is gay, that the court does not dispute these facts, but that the court still finds in favor of the employer due to lack of nondiscrimination protections under state law.’
Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign tweeted Friday that the case was an ‘appalling story’, which demonstrated ‘urgent need for Equality Act’
The court judges ruled 2-1 against Pittman. The one who dissented, Judge Anthony Rex Gabbert, noted that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled in the summer that sexual orientation discrimination can be regarded as a form of sex-based discrimination.
Kevin Garner, Communications Director of Progress Missouri told Gay Star Business that the case demonstrated the need for employment protections: ‘Once again, another hard working Missourian loses a job not because of the qualify of his work, but because of who he loves. The judge’s ruling is clear that until we pass the bipartisan Missouri Nondiscrimination Act (MONA), a person can be fired simply for being gay.’
In a statement, Joe Jurden, President of Cook Paper Recycling said that Mr Pittman had made his sexuality known to his future employers at the interview stage of recruitment, and denied that Pittman had been subjected to homophobic abuse during his employment.
‘Discrimination is a real problem in our country, and even today there are numerous instances where gay and lesbian people are treated unfairly.
‘The case of James Pittman vs Cook Paper Recycling Corp. is not one of these instances.
‘At no time was he ever subjected to name-calling or derision by me or any other employee. That sort of behavior is simply not tolerated at our company and is grounds for termination.
‘In recent days, publicity about this case has resulted in hateful allegations hurled at me and Cook Paper Recycling. In some instances, threats of violence have been made against company employees, me and my family.
‘I am disappointed that those who would seek fairness and due process for gay and lesbian people are so quick to dismiss these common courtesies when judging others.’
Pittman’s lawyers have said that they intend to appeal to the Missouri Supreme Court.
Main image: Missouri State Capitol building, by jimbowen0306, licensed via CreativeCommons2.0