Appeals Court: Civil Rights Act protects gay workers

By UPI Staff  |  Updated April 5, 2017 at 6:08 AM
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April 4 (UPI) -- A federal appeals court in Chicago ruled Tuesday that the Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

In an 8-3 decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals said "discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination."

"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," Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote for the court.

LGBT rights group Lambda Legal brought the case in 2014 on behalf of Kimberly Hively, a part-time math teacher who sued Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, Ind., on grounds she was denied a full-time job because she is a lesbian.

"In many cities and states across the country, lesbian and gay workers are being fired because of who they love. But, with this decision, federal law is catching up to public opinion: 90 percent of Americans already believe that LGBT employees should be valued for how well they do their jobs -- not who they love or who they are," said Greg Nevins of Lambda. "This decision is game-changer 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 trial court held that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion, does not protect employees from anti-gay discrimination. Lambda appealed the ruling in 2015 and lost again before a three-judge panel last year. Lambda then requested a rehearing before the circuit's full, seven-judge panel.

In Tuesday's opinion, Wood wrote: "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)."

The latest ruling is at odds with a finding last month from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled that Title VII does not bar claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Twenty-two states have outlawed workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation

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