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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 6, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 45
No protection for you! Missouri court tells Gay man
Section One
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No protection for you! Missouri court tells Gay man

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Missouri law does not protect Gay people from harassment in the workplace, the Western District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled on October 28.

In a 2-1 decision, the court said that the state law against discrimination based on sex does not apply to people who are harassed because of their sexual orientation.

Plaintiff James Pittman said he suffered seven years of discrimination and harassment at Cook Paper Recycling Corporation, until he was fired in December 2011.

Pittman began to work for the company in 2004, but company president Joe Jurden harassed him for being Gay and made discriminatory comments, including asking him if he had AIDS.

Pittman sued after he was fired, but a lower court dismissed his suit in February 2013. He then appealed. According to his attorney, Lynne Bratcher, this is the first time a Missouri appeals court has decided whether laws against sexual harassment protect Gay or Lesbian plaintiffs.

The appeals court majority said the legal prohibition against 'sex discrimination' should have a narrow interpretation.

'If the Missouri legislature had desired to include sexual orientation in the Missouri Human Rights Act's protections, it could have done so,' Chief Judge James Welch wrote in the majority opinion.

'No matter how compelling Pittman's argument may be and no matter how sympathetic this court or the trial court may be to Pittman's situation, we are bound by the state of the law as it currently exists.'

In his dissent, Judge Anthony Gabbert said that the word 'sex' should be interpreted to include more than merely gender.

'There is no requirement, therefore, that a specific definition be given preference over another in absence of a legislative definition,' Gabbert wrote. 'Even a cursory look in a dictionary by the majority would have led them to determine that, in fact, sex does not include only gender.'

In her argument before the appellate court, Bratcher pointed out that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has expanded its view of sex discrimination to include protection for sexual orientation and sexual stereotyping as a form of sexual discrimination.

'Some states have passed this by statute,' she said. 'I personally think it is encompassed in the statute we already have.'

The ACLU of Missouri filed a brief in the case supporting Pittman.

'We think [Gabbert's] dissent provides a very good explanation for why the Missouri Human Rights Act should be interpreted more broadly,' ACLU of Missouri Legal Director Tony Rothert said.

However, ACLU Director of Advocacy and Policy Sarah Rossi said in a statement that legislative action may be needed to clarify protections for LGBT people.

'Today the Missouri Court of Appeals made two things very clear: Missourians are being harassed, bullied, and fired from their jobs for being gay, lesbian, or bisexual and they will have no recourse in the courts unless the state legislature changes the Missouri Human Rights Act to protect them,' Rossi said in a statement.

Legislation to do so has been introduced in the Missouri legislature, but it has been blocked by Republicans.

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