ACLU Tells Washington High Court that State-Funded Hospital Violated U.S. Constitution by Firing Lesbian

August 9, 2001 12:00 am

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Thursday, August 9, 2001

OLYMPIA, WA – A state-funded hospital and its staff violated the constitutional rights of a lesbian employee by subjecting her to severe and ongoing anti-gay harassment, then firing her, the American Civil Liberties Union said in an appeal filed at the Washington State Supreme Court today.

“The lower court said that the US Constitution offers no refuge for lesbians and gay men who face discrimination by the government based on their sexual orientation,” said Ken Choe, the ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project staff attorney handling the case. “We think that’s plain wrong.”

Mary Jo Davis was a sonographer in the Radiology Department at Pullman Memorial Hospital near Spokane for about two years. Dr. Charles Guess, the chief radiologist, harassed her routinely. Guess constantly referred to Davis as a “f-king dyke” and “f-king faggot,” and told another doctor, “I don’t think that f-king faggot should be doing vaginal exams, and I’m not working with her.”

When Davis complained, Guess told hospital administrators that he didn’t “agree with Mary JO Davis’ lesbian lifestyle.” Rather than discipline Guess, the hospital punished Davis – reducing her work hours to three-quarters time so Guess wouldn’t have to work with her. Finally, Davis was fired.

Davis sued Guess and the hospital in 1996, alleging that both she and her former supervisor – a straight woman – were wrongfully terminated because of anti-gay bias. In 1999, the trial court effectively dismissed the charges against Guess, and last year the same court ruled similarly on the claims against the hospital. Today, the ACLU asked the State Supreme Court to reverse those decisions itself or send them to appeals court.

“Mary JO Davis was a good employee. She was subjected to a hellish work environment, then finally fired, because she is a lesbian,” Choe said. “All over this country, people face discrimination because of their sexual orientation. It’s particularly wrong when it’s the government that does it.”

There is no federal law explicitly barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. Just last week, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit such discrimination, was again introduced in Congress. Only 12 states have laws barring discrimination based on sexual orientation. Washington is not among them.

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A statement from Mary Jo Davis follows.


Today, the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project released the following statement from Mary Jo Davis. The ACLU filed an appeal on Davis’ behalf with the Washington State Supreme Court today, alleging that her constitutional rights were violated when she was fired because of her sexual orientation.

“I worked at Pullman Memorial Hospital – a public hospital in Washington state – for nearly two years. I was a sonographer in the Radiology Department, where I performed diagnostic tests. I showed up for work on time, did a good job and helped hundreds of patients.

“I was fired because I am a lesbian.

“The chief radiologist constantly referred to me with anti-gay epithets, told colleagues I wasn’t doing a good job, held me to much higher standards than other employees and humiliated me on a regular basis. He finally refused to ever speak to me or to allow me to speak to him – even about our work. Among co-workers, it was common knowledge that I was being routinely harassed because I’m a lesbian.

“When I complained, the hospital reduced my hours, so the chief radiologist wouldn’t ever have to be around me at work. Finally, I was fired. I lost my income and my insurance – and any certainty that I’ll be treated equally by my own government.

“As shocked as I was to be fired because I’m gay, I was even more stunned that a state court said it’s perfectly constitutional for a public employer to fire someone based on their sexual orientation. Going through a lawsuit like this isn’t easy. But what happened to me was wrong, and we can’t just let it stand.”

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