In a groundbreaking, 8-3 decision, the full Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation violates federal civil rights law.
The court found that such discrimination is a form of sex discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal law prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
The decision — which came in Lambda Legal’s case on behalf of Kimberly Hively, an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College who was fired for being a lesbian — makes the Seventh Circuit the highest federal court to reach this conclusion and could change the national landscape of employment law for LGBT people.
In August of 2014, Kimberly Hively sued Ivy Tech Community College, arguing that the school violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it denied her full-time employment and promotions after she had been seen kissing her then-girlfriend in the parking lot of the school. The trial court dismissed Hively’s lawsuit and held that Title VII — which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion — does not protect employees from antigay discrimination.
In April 2015, Lambda Legal appealed to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, seeking reversal and reinstatement of Hively’s complaint. A three-judge panel ruled against Hively in July 2016, but Lambda Legal requested a rehearing of the case by the full panel of the Seventh Circuit – all eleven judges. On October 11, 2016 that request was granted, and in November, Greg Nevins, Employment Fairness Program Director for Lambda Legal, appeared once again, to ask that the court overturn its prior decisions limiting the reach of Title VII.