Ruling Affirms Civil Rights Laws Protect Employees from Discrimination Based on…

06 April, 2017, 02:24 | Author: Michele Stevens
  • Appeals court: Civil Rights Act protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees

Previously, courts have ruled that these protections against sex discrimination don't include discrimination against LGTBQ people. By a solid 8-3 majority, the 7th Circuit concluded on Tuesday that discrimination based on sexual orientation is indeed a form of sex discrimination prohibited under Title VII.

The Seventh Circuit did just that on Tuesday in Kimberly Hively's case alleging discrimination against Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana.

Hively said the school discriminated against her because she is a lesbian. It was the first federal appellate court to reach that conclusion, and it did so despite Congress' failure to amend the statute to specifically cover gay workers.

While possible that the Supreme Court or Congress will step in and reverse this trend, as a recent court stated, "it seems unlikely that our society can continue to condone a legal structure in which employees can be fired, harassed, demeaned, singled out for undesirable tasks, paid lower wages, demoted, passed over for promotions, and otherwise discriminated against exclusively based on who they date, love, or marry". Vox called it "the biggest pro-gay rights legal decision since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality".

Greg Nivens, employment fairness program director for Lambda Legal, noted, "In many cities and states across the country, lesbian and gay workers are being fired because of who they love".

The ruling "sends a clear message to employers: It is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation", Gregory Nevins told the Columbus, Indiana, Republic. Suddenly, the case became one of the most significant employment law decisions on the docket in 2017, potentially reshaping the legal standard around what some consider to be a paradoxical Title VII issue.

Hively originally sued Ivy Tech in 2014 under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Still, the Supreme Court held Title VII covers this kind of harassment in a string of decisions beginning with Meritor Sav.

But in its April 4 decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of in, the full 7th Circuit court ruled that sexual orientation was covered by the federal civil rights law, making it the first federal appeals court to so rule. This means that someone can be fired from a job, evicted from a home, or kicked out of a business just because an employer, landlord, or business owner doesn't approve of the person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

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Clouds will begin drifting in ahead of a cold front Tuesday night and Wednesday should be cooler with scattered showers. With recent warm weather and the high April sun angle, it will be hard to get the snow to stick too much on area roads.

Employers in IL and Wisconsin are already subject to state laws protecting private workers based on sexual orientation, so yesterday's decision should simply reaffirm their commitment to ensuring fairness and equality for these employees. This is what the Civil Rights Act and other federal and state civil rights laws that followed were about.

Indeed, if the decision is allowed to stand, it would essentially add LGBTQ protections to existing laws.

Civil rights advocates claim, however, that federal law should already shield LGBTQ people from discrimination, because, they say, bans on sex discrimination also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. "Our panel described the line between a gender nonconformity claim and one based on sexual orientation as gossamer-thin; we conclude that it does not exist at all". Similarly, if someone discriminates against a trans woman, that's largely based on the expectation that a person designated male at birth should identify as a man - again, a belief built on the idea of what a person of a certain sex assigned at birth should be like.

Adams of the Williams Institute agrees that while the 7th Circuit decision is limited to Title VII, "courts often look to Title VII jurisprudence when interpreting other sex discrimination prohibitions, such as Title IX". Now through this case and others, that principle is backed up by the courts.

However, over the years, plaintiffs have sought a much broader interpretation of what should be covered as sex discrimination.

The appeals court remanded the case back to district court.

Even if these appeals court decisions do not immediately materialize, there are two other avenues whereby employers could still face immediate liability for such claims.

"I think most judges, and certainly the 7 circuit judges, all of them agreed at that moment Congress probably didn't anticipate that it would be interpreted to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation", Widiss says. That's because federal civil rights laws don't ban sex discrimination in public accommodations. The battle over LGBTQ rights in the workplace stays in the deeply divided lower courts ― for now. Nearly half of the states in the country have laws prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination in employment (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin), and some additional states protect state workers from such discrimination (Alaska, Arizona, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Virginia).


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