Ex-FAA Worker Seeks Court Ruling Saying Anti-Gay Job Bias Prohibited Under Existing Civil Rights Laws
The U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling in favor of nationwide marriage equality was among the most significant legal victories in the history of the LGBT civil rights movement.
But another lawsuit filed last week has the potential to eclipse Obergefell v. Hodges in terms of overall impact because it would affect more people, according to an attorney for the plaintiff.
In the face of Congress' longtime failure to pass explicit LGBT job protections, former Federal Aviation Administration employee David Baldwin's lawsuit is aimed at obtaining a federal decision — and eventually from the high court itself — saying anti-gay job bias is already illegal under existing civil rights laws.
“Mr. Baldwin’s case has the ability to affect more people than the [Supreme] Court’s Obergefell [marriage] case because there are more gay men and women who have jobs than same sex couples who want to get married,” Baldwin’s lawyer, Lowell Kuvin, told BuzzFeed News.
In 2012, Baldwin filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging he was denied a promotion and suffered harassment based on his sexual orientation while working as a temporary frontline manager at Miami International Airport. This July, the EEOC ruled in Baldwin's favor, saying anti-gay bias qualifies as sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The EEOC's decision came two years after it ruled that transgender people are protected against job discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. And although both decisions were historic, they are binding only on federal agencies and don't necessarily protect non-governmental employees. Since the EEOC's decision in his case, Baldwin has sought to resolve the case with the FAA, but the agency never responded, prompting his lawsuit.
Baldwin's lawsuit, which names transportation secretary Anthony Foxx and FAA Administrator Michael Huerta as defendants, alleges he was passed over for a promotion to permanent front line manager in favor of less qualified people on three separate occasions. In addition, Baldwin's supervisors repeatedly made disparaging remarks about his sexual orientation, the suit states.
For example, when Baldwin mentioned that he and his partner had attended Mardi Gras in New Orleans, one of his supervisors, Mark Scott, responded that "we don't need to hear about all that gay stuff." Baldwin was also repeatedly told he was "a distraction in the radar room" when he discussed his partner. When Baldwin mentioned that his partner prepared him lunch each day, he was told the "comment was inappropriate" and to "get out of the radar room with that kind of talk."
"The fact that Plaintiff is male and gay was a motivating factor in the decision to not promote Plaintiff,” the complaint states. “Plaintiff was singled out due to his sexual orientation and treated differently than heterosexual co-workers.”
Baldwin’s suit seeks back pay, compensatory damages, punitive damages, reinstatement of front pay, injunctive relief and attorney’s fees. But above all, Baldwin hopes his case will help lead to employment protections for gay workers throughout the U.S. Currently, only 22 states ban anti-gay job discrimination, and the Equality Act, which would establish comprehensive federal civil rights protections, remains stalled in Congress.
"I am confident that this decision will be the deciding factor in saving countless jobs," Baldwin told The Washington Blade following the EEOC's decision in July. "That anyone would lose their job simply because of whom they are is a travesty. The LGBT community was never looking for ANY special consideration. We simply want the exact same protections as every other American citizen under already existing laws. Nothing more, nothing less."
Since the EEOC's decision, LGBT advocates have strongly encouraged people who suffer anti-gay job discrimination to file complaints with the commission alleging sex discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.
According to the Blade, Baldwin is a 57-year-old Navy veteran who met his partner, Keith George, seven years ago at a Metropolitan Community Church. They've since relocated to New Orleans, where they're renovating a health club that had recently closed.
Read Baldwin's full complaint here.
Image by David Baldwin, used with permission
Hat tip: BuzzFeed News