LGBT Employees Protected By Federal Civil Rights Act, Appeals Court Rules

Cheryl Sanders
April 13, 2017

Hively (photo), a teacher, "was denied full-time employment at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, Indiana, six different times and eventually terminated because she is a lesbian", the national LGBT rights legal organization Lambda Legal, which is representing Hively, noted a year ago.

"Ivy Tech Community College rejects discrimination of all types; sexual orientation discrimination is specifically barred by our policies", Jeff Fanter, Ivy Tech's senior vice president student experience/communication and marketing, said. Everyone should have a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

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. Eight of the court's 11 judges were appointed by Republican presidents, according to the Chicago Tribune. So, the court decided, it's not legal in the USA 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.

Judge Diane Sykes wrote the dissent for the court, calling the decision "momentous", while warning about the implications of the court's overreach. "Kim Hively loved her job teaching math at Ivy Tech Community College, but she was sacked because she is a lesbian". Wood achieved this by referring to the loose logic in Loving v. Virginia, the case in which the Supreme Court struck down an anti-miscegenation law, even though the law applied equally to blacks and whites. They ruled 8-to-3 in her favor on Tuesday, which is particularly notable because the court is fairly conservative.

"This critically important circuit court decision has adopted a well-grounded legal analysis concluding that our nation's civil rights laws include sexual orientation", said HRC legal director Sarah Warbelow.

"It is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex", she added. "So what's the big deal?" seems to be the question on a lot of people's minds these days, more so as protections for LGBTQIA people are shrinking overall. She claims her treatment violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

"We hold only that a person who alleges that she experienced employment discrimination on the basis of her sexual orientation has put forth a case of sex discrimination" for purposes of federal civil rights law.

The 7th Circuit creates laws for three states: Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Judge Diane Wood agreed.

What activists want to do is expand the existing civil rights protections to also protect LGBTQ people. "Ivy Tech respects and appreciates the opinions rendered by the judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and does not intend to seek Supreme Court review".

While the 7th Circuit is forcing a reexamination of the law and will likely influence other courts, the Hively case will likely not be the one that goes before the high court.

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