Appeals Court Rules LGBT Employees Protected by the Civil Rights Act

Yesterday the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled 8-3 that the 1964 Civil Right Act bars workplace discrimination against LGBT employees. This is the first time a federal court has determined that the law protects the workplace rights of LGBT workers.

The ruling comes in the case of Kimberly Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College. Hively, a lesbian, began working as a part time instructor at Ivy Tech in 2000. In 2013, she filed a pro se complaint with the EEOC, alleging that she had been discriminated against based on her sexual orientation.  The next year, she filed a suit in the Indiana District Court alleging "I have applied for several positions at IVY TECH, fulltime, in the last 5 years. I believe I am being blocked from fulltime employment without just cause. I believe I am being discriminated against based on my sexual orientation. I believe I have been discriminated against and that my rights under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were violated." The District Court dismissed the case, and she appealed.  In July 2016, a three judge panel again ruled against her.  After the July ruling, Lambda Legal requested a rehearing.

In the Tuesday ruling, the Judge Diane Wood wrote, "Any discomfort, disapproval, or job decision based on the fact that the complainant -- woman or man -- dresses differently, speaks differently, or dates or marries a same-sex partner, is a reaction purely and simply based on sex." In the dissent, Judge Diane Sykes argued, "The Constitution assigns the power to make and amend statutory law to the elected representatives of the people,” Sykes wrote. “However welcome today’s decision might be as a policy matter, it comes at a great cost to representative self-government.”

Despite the ruling, this issue is far from settled. In March, the 11th Circuit ruled the opposite way in Evans v. Georgia Memorial Hospital.  Given how contentious this issue is, we can expect it to end up before the Supreme Court soon.