Following ACLU Lawsuit, Lesbian Illegally Fired from Washington Hospital Receives Generous Settlement

Affiliate: ACLU of Washington
October 8, 2003 12:00 am

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PULLMAN, WA – A local hospital and a doctor who worked there have agreed to pay a former employee $75,000 for harassing and illegally firing her solely because she is a lesbian. The American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully litigated the employee’s lawsuit last year, said the case has helped establish important precedents protecting lesbian and gay government employees from anti-gay discrimination.

“I am relieved that I can finally put this painful experience behind me and move on with my life,” said Mary Jo Davis, a former sonographer at Pullman Memorial Hospital, located in the Southeastern part of the state near Spokane.

“Employees should be judged on their work, not on their sexual orientation,” she added. “While the money doesn’t make up for the indignities I suffered, it’s comforting to know that by standing up for what’s right, I have made it easier for other people facing anti-gay discrimination in the workplace.”

Davis worked in the Radiology Department at the hospital for about two years. According to ACLU legal papers, Dr. Charles Guess, the chief radiologist, harassed her routinely. Guess constantly referred to Davis as a “fucking dyke” and “fucking faggot” and reportedly told another doctor, “I don’t think that fucking 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.

“By standing up to the bigotry of Dr. Guess and Pullman Memorial Hospital, Ms. Davis has made going to work every day much easier for lesbian and gay government employees,” said Ken Choe, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian & Gay Rights Project. “Because of her, it is now clear that government employers can be held accountable for anti-gay discrimination.”

In July 2002, the Washington Court of Appeals sided with the ACLU, holding that government employers cannot discriminate against employees for being gay. This was the first time that an appeals court interpreted the U.S. Constitution to protect government employees against anti-gay discrimination. Davis initially 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. The name of the case is Miguel v. Guess.

While this case has helped to protect government employees for anti-discrimination, it is still legal in 36 states for non-government employers to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation. The ACLU has launched a web-based public education campaign,, to encourage the LGBT community to work for equality. The website includes a number of tools designed to protect LGBT employees in the workplace, ranging from a one-click action alert urging Congress to support the ENDA, the federal anti-gay discrimination bill, to detailed instructions on how to encourage private employers to adopt non-discrimination policies.

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