Appeals Court Upholds That Civil Rights Act Applies To LGBT Workers

The ruling asserts that any job decision based on someone's romantic life "is a reaction purely and simply based on sex."

A federal appeals court has ruled that the Civil Rights Act includes a prohibition against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation, claiming it “is a form of sex discrimination.”

Kimberly Hively, a part-time math teacher, filed suit against South Bend, Indiana’s Ivy Tech Community College in 2014, claiming she was denied a full-time job because she is a lesbian. Indiana’s anti-discrimination laws don’t include sexual orientation, but lawyers for Lambda Legal maintained that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act also covered anti-gay bias.

They lost their case—and an appeal before a three-judge panel last year)—but in a 8-3 decision today, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. (The ruling doesn’t mean Hively won her case, only that it has merit to go forward.)

“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,” wrote Chief Judge Diane Wood.

“Hively’s claim is no different from the claims brought by women who were rejected for jobs in traditionally male workplaces, such as fire departments, construction, and policing. The employers in those cases were policing the boundaries of what jobs or behaviors they found acceptable for a woman—or in some cases, for a man.”

Fired businessman holding his office belongings

Whether or not sexual orientation and gender identity are covered by Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination has bounced about the courts like a ping-pong ball: In November, a District Court Judge ruled it did. Last month, though, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it did not.

Today’s verdict will help lay a legal foundation as the issue inevitably heads to the Supreme Court.

“This decision is game-changer for lesbian and gay employees facing discrimination in the workplace,” Lambda Legal’s Greg Nevins said, “and sends a clear message to employers: It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”

Dan Avery is a writer-editor who focuses on culture, breaking news and LGBT rights. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The New York Times, Time Out New York, The Advocate and elsewhere.
@ItsDanAvery