Federal Court Rules Civil Rights Act Protects Gay Workers

So, the court decided, it's not legal in the U.S. for an employer to discriminate against gay workers - making it the first federal appeals court to conclude that gay people are protected under existing civil rights law.

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on April 4, that federal civil rights law protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees from workplace discrimination.

The appeals court eventually brought an 8-3 decision - after rehearing oral arguments back in November - while ruling that "considerable calisthenics" would be performed by anyone who tried to exclude "sex" from "sexual orientation", and so, the court reversed a decision by the three-judge panel that ruled against the plaintiff past year.

To reach their decision, the majority examined decisions made by the Supreme Court over the past 20 years involving employment discrimination and gay rights.

A federal court in Atlanta ruled the opposite last month.

Hively claimed that her employer was discriminating against her because of her sexual orientation, basing this claim on the fact that an Ivy Tech administrator had reprimanded Hively after the adjunct instructor was seen kissing a girlfriend goodbye in a campus parking lot. We look forward to the court's decision being upheld through what is sure to be an arduous appeals process. The ruling could give an opening to protect discrimination based on gender identity, too, if more federal appeals courts move to interpret "sex" as an indicator of gender identity.

Hively alleged the college did not hire her full time because she is a lesbian.

The ruling on Tuesday comes as gay rights advocates have voiced concern about the potential rollback of protections under President Trump. "That means that it falls within Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination, if it affects employment in one of the specified ways".

Tuesday's decision overturned a ruling by a three-judge panel of the Seventh Circuit Court, which said it was bound by earlier circuit precedents excluding sexual orientation claims from the law's coverage. That is a Virginia case that involves the same phrase against sex discrimination, but in a different civil rights law - Title IX, dealing with education. Three judges disagreed. The case now returns to district court.

The case stems from a lawsuit by in teacher Kimberly Hively alleging that the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend didn't hire her full-time because she is a lesbian. Rather than wait on Congress to change the law, the court changed the meaning of language itself.

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals did not rule that the college discriminated.

As of this week, a person fired in the United States for their sexuality can now file a discrimination lawsuit and reasonably expect it to succeed.

Gregory Nevins of the LGBT rights advocacy group Lambda Legal says the ruling "sends a clear message to employers: it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation".

Since 1990, Congress has been asked repeatedly to write a new law extending Title VII as the new ruling did, but it has never passed such a measure.

  • Larry Hoffman