May 20, 2017
On April 4, 2017, eight judges on a Chicago appellate court ruled to protect LGBT employees from discrimination in the workplace under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, making this the first decision of its kind. An Indiana federal district court will rehear the case. According to Gregory Nevins, a lawyer from the LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal, the ruling is a “game changer” that will set a precedent for lower courts to follow.
The case involves Kim Hively, a lesbian and former teacher at a community college in Indiana, who asserts that her denial of a fulltime position and later dismissal from her job occurred because of her sexual orientation. In 2009, Hively was reported and reprimanded for unprofessional conduct—kissing her girlfriend goodbye in a parking lot on campus. In the five years that followed, Hively missed out on promotions and consideration for full-time status despite applying multiple times. In 2013, Hively personally sued Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, but her lawyer Nevins asserts that prejudicial beliefs caused the dismissal of the case.
Chief Judge Diane P. Wood, representing the majority, stated that Hively’s claim looks similar to the discrimination women faced in the workplace when banned from traditionally male jobs. She labeled the situation as a gender non-conformity case.
Speaking on behalf of Ivy Tech, Jeff Fanter denied any discrimination allegations.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits prejudice in the workplace based on race, religion, national origin or sex. John Maley, Ivy Tech’s attorney, contended that the word “sex” denotes whether an employee is male or female, and changing the meaning to comprise sexual orientation is wrong. Although he acknowledged that the law may be inexact, he feels that Congress should address the matter.
Nevins’ argued that sex and sexual orientation are equivalent, but his view received rejection from the three nonconforming judges who believe that the word “sex” literally means male or female. They believe the intent of law in 1964 continues to be the same today.
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