Why the Seventh Circuit's Ruling is so Important
- Author: Eleanor Harrison Apr 08, 2017,
Apr 08, 2017, 6:39
In a case with far-reaching implications, a federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that the Civil Rights Act protects LGBT employees from workplace discrimination. An en banc review of her case found, by an 8-3 ruling, that sexual orientation discrimination is sex discrimination, and therefore illegal.
That outcome was a victory for Kim Hively, an IN math teacher who said she was sacked by Ivy Tech Community College after being seen kissing her girlfriend IN a auto IN the school parking lot. Out of the eight appellate judges who agreed the Civil Rights Act should incorporate bias against LGBT workers, five were Republican. "We are not authorized to infuse the text with a new or unconventional meaning, or to update it to respond to changed social, economic, or political conditions", she wrote. 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.
"The logic of the Supreme Court's decisions, as well as the common-sense reality that it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex, persuades us", wrote the majority, "that the time has come to overrule our previous cases that have endeavored to find and observe that line". Thus, the ruling spelled out Title VII only for such claims by private sector employees.
"We understand the words of Title VII differently not because we're smarter than the statute's framers and ratifiers but because we live in a different era, a different culture".
On the other side, opponents argue that LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections aren't included in existing federal civil rights laws, because the authors of federal civil rights laws never believed or intended that bans on sex discrimination also ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. "Simply put, sexual orientation discrimination doesn't classify people by sex; it doesn't draw male/female distinctions but instead targets homosexual men and women for harsher treatment than heterosexual men and women".
Nickles said the court's decision takes into account the law and today's societal norms.
Judge Wood's ruling makes it clear that employers may not make use a person's sexual orientation in hiring or termination decisions.
The ruling picks at a big gap in LGBTQ rights across America: Under federal and most states' laws, LGBTQ people aren't explicitly protected from discrimination in the workplace, housing, or public accommodations (such as restaurants, hotels, and other places that serve the public).
Hively marks a vast discrepancy among the Circuits, and accordingly, this issue is most certainly well-positioned for consideration by the U.S. Supreme Court. Wood stated, "Hively represents the ultimate case of failure to conform to the female stereotype".
"Ivy Tech Community College rejects discrimination of all types, sexual-orientation discrimination is specifically barred by our policies", said Ivy Tech spokesperson Jeff Fanter.
For decades, Title VII has been interpreted as only prohibiting discrimination against women because they are women or against men because they are men, that Congress had only the traditional notion of "sex" in mind when it outlawed "sex discrimination". "No one should be fired for being lesbian, gay, or transgender like happened to me and it's incredibly powerful to know that the law now protects me and other LGBT workers". But Tuesday night, the college announced that it would drop that argument, but would continue to fight in court on the charges of discrimination, not Hively's right to sue. So the issue is headed to the Supreme Court.
"It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the "sex" from 'sexual orientation.'" Chief Justice Diane Wood wrote in the majority opinion, according to Vox.