In a 7-4 decision, the ninth circuit U.S. court of appeals in San Francisco ruled Tuesday that a gay butler who worked at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas can sue his employer in federal court for sexual discrimination. Medina Rene claimed in a federal lawsuit that, from 1994 to 1996, his male coworkers and supervisor subjected him to a hostile work environment that included crude and demeaning pranks targeting his homosexuality.
The federal appeals court ruling Tuesday reversed an earlier decision by the same panel that examined whether federal civil rights laws protect gay and lesbian workers who are physically harassed on the job. That decision, in March 2001, by three judges in the same court had upheld a 1979 decision that the law protects workers against discrimination only on the basis of race, color, religion, gender, or national origin. But the seven-judge majority cited an unanimous 1998 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that sexual harassment at work can be illegal even when the offender and victim are the same sex. The Supreme Court has never decided whether a worker discriminated against because of sexual orientation can sue under federal civil rights laws even though it has held that it is illegal to discriminate against someone based on gender.
Twelve states, including Nevada, allow such suits under their own antidiscrimination rules. Besides Nevada, they are California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Wisconsin. Rene did not sue in state court, and the statute of limitations now has expired.