News - March 1996

Accountant must pay $110,000 because he is gay

The United States Supreme Court Feb. 20 declined to hear the case of a gay man who has been ordered to pay $110,000 to his former employer under a penalty provision in their employment contract triggered by "homosexuality."

"We are disappointed that blatant discrimination against lesbians and gay men remains acceptable," said Beatrice Dohrn, Legal Director at Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has represented Miller throughout his appeals. "It is truly outrageous that a court of law can still be used to enforce a provision which penalizes a person simply because he is gay. Dan Miller not only lost his job because he's gay, but now he's being made to pay $110,000 on that basis."

"It's long been established that courts may not allow themselves to become the vehicle for enforcing people's biases," said Dohrn. "This case is an invitation to the Supreme Court to clarify that animosity against gay people is treated no differently under that rule."

The case is remarkable, and attracted national attention when it was outlined in detail in a June 13, 1994 New Yorker article because DeMuth never disputed the fact that Miller's excellent job performance was unaffected by his sexual orientation. Throughout the case, and also in appellate papers, the employer has maintained his right to fire Miller based on his own personal displeasure at working with a gay employee, always admitting that Miller was a highly successful employee and would have been offered a partnership, but for his sexual orientation.

Because no law prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, Miller's firing went unchallenged on appeal. However, Lambda argued that the jury verdict allowing court enforcement of the further monetary penalty should have been set aside as a violation of Miller's equal protection rights under the federal constitution. A three-judge panel of the Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected Miller's appeal, with one Judge dissenting. The State Supreme court declined review of the case, prompting the petition for United States Supreme Court consideration.

"With this, Dan's case is over, but the fight for anti-discrimination protection will continue. This could not have happened if the law established job performance as the standard for employment decisions," said Dohrn. "The right to be free from discrimination at work is not a special right'; it is a right most people assume they have. This case shows that, without legal protection, gay people can't make that assumption," Dohrn added.

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