For four years, Shelly Flood says she was an excellent employee at a Maine branch of Bank of America. Her partner, Keri Flood, a cleaner at the bank, also received glowing reviews in the two years she worked there.
But when the bank discovered that they were lesbian partners, things changed "suddenly and dramatically from cordial to hostile," according to the couple's lawsuit, and they were fired within a week of each other. Now the couple is suing Bank of America and the New York-based cleaning company in U.S. District Court, alleging discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
In their lawsuit, the couple claims that Bank of America told Keri Flood's employer, ABM Janitorial Services-Northeast Inc., that she was in a relationship with Shelly in September 2010, reports the Bangor Daily News. Around that time, someone from the bank told her employer that she had assaulted a bank employee, which she flatly denies. They both assert their sexual orientation was to blame for their hostile treatment, and their employers' decisions to fire them.
In a statement, Bank of America said they were reviewing the complaint and that the company "is committed to maintaining a workplace free of discrimination and harassment, a workplace where differences -- in thought, style, culture, ethnicity and experience, including sexual orientation -- help to make us stronger as a company."
Bank of America used very similar language in response to a new survey by The Glass Hammer, which found that lesbian women considered the bank one of the most supportive places to work.
ABM echoed Bank of America's sentiment, and said that they found "no evidence that anything unlawful took place."
Maine is one of 20 states where it is illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise discriminate against someone for being gay. A recent report from the Center For American Progress, a liberal think tank, found that workplace discrimination costs businesses an average $64 billion annually, primarily through the turnover of employees. This may be partly why 87 percent of Fortune 500 companies had non-discrimination policies that included sexual orientation in 2010, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Bank of America is No. 9 on that list.
"Corporate America and the business community has really led the way in adopting these protections," says Ian Thompson, a legislative representative of the American Civil Liberties Union. "It's not just something they're doing altruisitcally. I think they see it as being in the best interest of their companies."
But many still oppose protections for gays and lesbians in the workplace. The Kansas House just passed a bill that would legalize anti-gay discrimination based on religious objections. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) recently spoke out on his "Don't Ask Don't Tell" approach to gays in the workplace in an interview with Think Progress.
"You have a private sector business here and they need freedom to operate," he said. "In the first place, I would think that unless someone makes their sexuality public, it's not anybody's business, so neither is it our business to tell an employer who to hire. He won't know who to discriminate against in the first place."
Bank Of America: Gay Friendly
In the recent past, Bank of America has stood firmly on the side of gay rights. In May 2011, Bank of America's charitable foundation awarded a $25,000 grant to LIGALY, a group that fights bullying in schools against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
Last September, the bank became embroiled in controversy after firing a longtime teambuilding coordinator, Frank Turek, shortly before he was scheduled to give a presentation on diversity. The bank had discovered that he had written a book against gay marriage. Turek had also made public statements such as, "You should not be for homosexuality if you are a rational reasonable person." Under pressure from customers and activists who accused the company of political and religious discrimination, Bank of America rehired Turek.
Last month, a Bank of America executive caused a stir with a video in which she outlined her opposition to the anti-gay marriage initiative on North Carolina's ballot. "We're in a war with other states across the country who would love to have the jobs that we have today," she said. "Amendment One has the potential to have a disastrous effect on our ability to attract talent and keep talent in the state of North Carolina."
A spokesman for the bank defended her right to make such a video in her "personal capacity."
The Floods, although they share a surname, are not married. Maine's gay marriage law saw the sunlight for a brief period in 2009, before it was knocked down by referendum. The state's domestic partnership law is still in effect.
According to The Glass Hammer survey, only 44 percent of lesbian lesbians were out to their boss or manager compared to 60 percent of gay men. And the Floods may offer up a reason why. They didn't face any discrimination on the job whatsoever, until their relationship got out.
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