Society

Court: Civil Rights Act Protects Sexual Orientation

| by Ray Brown

A federal court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from discrimination based on their sexual orientation, in what gay rights activists describe as a major victory.

In an 8-3 ruling, the Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit decided that, because federal civil rights laws protect people from sex discrimination, those protections should also apply to one's sexual orientation.

"It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from ‘sexual orientation.’" Chief Justice Diane Wood wrote in the majority opinion, according to Vox. "The effort to do so has led to confusing and contradictory results."

"In the years since 1964, Title VII has been understood to cover far more than the simple decision of an employer not to hire a woman for Job A or a man for Job B," the decision explains, according to Inside Higher Ed. "The Supreme Court has held that the prohibition against sex discrimination reaches sexual harassment in the workplace, including same-sex workplace harassment; it reaches discrimination based on actuarial assumptions about a person’s longevity; and it reaches discrimination based on a person’s failure to conform to a certain set of gender stereotypes. It is quite possible that these interpretations may also have surprised some who served in the 88th Congress [which enacted Title VII]. Nevertheless, experience with the law has led the Supreme Court to recognize that each of these examples is a covered form of sex discrimination."

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Greg Nevins, employment fairness program director for the LGBTQ advocacy group Lambda Legal, which represented the plaintiff in the case, praised the decision.

"In many cities and states across the country, lesbian and gay workers are being fired because of who they love," Nevins said in a statement, according to Vox. "This decision is gamechanger for lesbian and gay employees facing discrimination in the workplace and sends a clear message to employers: It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation."

The Human Rights Campaign also issued a statement that praised the court's decision.

"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. "Today’s ruling is a monumental victory for fairness in the workplace, and for the dignity of lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans who may live in fear of losing their job based on whom they love."

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The lawsuit was brought forth by Kimberly Hively of South Bend, Indiana, a mathematics instructor at Ivy Tech Community College back in August 2014. Hively, who worked at the college for 14 years, claimed she was denied promotions because she is a lesbian.

ITCC denies the accusation but said it would not appeal the court's ruling.

"Ivy Tech Community College rejects discrimination of all types; sexual orientation discrimination is specifically barred by our policies," said in a statement, according to Higher Ed. "Ivy Tech respects and appreciates the opinions rendered by the judges of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and does not intend to seek Supreme Court review."

Sources: Vox, Human Rights Campaign, Inside Higher Ed / Photo Credit: Lambda Legal via Chicago Tribune

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