A Missouri appeals court has ruled that an employer did not violate the state's human rights law by calling a gay employee a "cocksucker" and asking if the man had AIDS.
James Pittman sued the Kansas City-based Cook Paper Recycling Corporation last year, alleging that he was fired in 2001 after seven years after the company because he was gay, according to Courthouse News Service. A lower court had previously dismissed Pittman's lawsuit, and a three-panel judge upheld that ruling last week in a split decision, with the two judges in the majority saying that the Missouri Human Rights Act only covers gender and not sexual orientation.
"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," said Chief Judge James Welch, noting that Missouri's law only bans discrimination based on "race, color, religions, national origin, sex, ancestry, age or disability."
Pittman accused Cook Paper president Joe Jurden of making discriminatory comments about his sexuality, with the lawsuit saying that Jurden told Pittman that "he was a 'cocksucker' and made other comments of a sexual nature, discriminatory to a male homosexual, including asking him if he had AIDS."
When Pittman broke up with his partner, he claimed the company treated him "more harshly than a male who was getting a divorce from his female wife," and "caused the workplace to be an objectively hostile and abusive environment based on sexual preference."
The Missouri branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed a brief in support of Pittman, called for legislative changes to protect the state's LGBT community from discrimination. There's no federal law that prevents employers from discriminating against workers based on their sexual orientation.
"The court did not deny that what James experienced was real, but instead made clear that their hands were tied by Missouri law," Sarah Rossi, the ACLU of Missouri's director of advocacy and policy, said in a statement. "Contrary to what many believe, lesbian, gay, and bisexual Missourians can still be fired, kicked out of their homes, or denied service at a restaurant because of who they are and who they love."
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