A recent decision by the first circuit court of appeals found that a bisexual employee of Bank of America was discriminated against and wrongfully terminated based upon her sexual orientation. While the past decade has seen real advances on the debate around sexual orientation and gender identity, including strengthened legal protections in the workplace, there is still progress to be made. Shelly Flood’s story highlights how non-heterosexual workplace relationships can lead to employment discrimination.
Shelly Flood, a Bank of America call center employee in Maine, began a relationship with a female member of the janitorial staff while employed by Bank of America. After her supervisor saw a photo of the couple, Ms. Flood began to notice hostile treatment, including declining work performance reviews and warnings against fraternization with her significant other in the work place.
These warnings came despite the fact that heterosexual employees regularly discussed their relationships, marriages, and sexual activities in the workplace. The final blow came after she was forced to attend a work meeting in which other employees discussed plans for an upcoming bridal shower, including graphic details regarding sexually explicit party favors and lingerie. Ms. Flood failed to report to work the next day.
After that, Ms. Flood maintained that she was too distraught to return to work due to the hostile work environment. Her supervisor recommended that Bank of America follow the procedures for job abandonment, which resulted in Ms. Flood’s firing from Bank of America.
The first circuit court ultimately found that Ms. Flood was harassed and wrongfully discharged on the basis of her sexuality under the Maine Human Rights Act. The higher court reversed the district court’s decision. Although this case was specific to Maine law, New Hampshire state law also provides protection for afforded its employees against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation under RSA 354-A.