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Federal Court Rules That LGBTQ Employees Are Protected Under The Civil Rights Act

They may become protected under the Civil Rights Act of 1964

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Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlaws employment discrimination on the basis of the employee’s “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” While those protections mention sex, they have never covered sexual orientation or gender identity. But a landmark decision Tuesday by a Chicago federal appeals court, says that LGBTQ people are protected from workplace discrimination under the Civil Rights Act.

The 8–3 ruling is the first by a federal appeals court to recognize the law as protecting the rights of LGBTQ employees. The decision significantly raises the chances of the issue being resolved by the Supreme Court. “This decision is a 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,” Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal said.

The ruling came after a lawsuit brought by Kimberly Hively, a part-time Indiana teacher who believed the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend had passed her up for a full-time position because she is a lesbian. “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,” Judge Wood, writing for the majority opinion, argued.

Judge Diane Sykes, who wrote the dissenting opinion, believes the Civil Rights Act of 1964 shouldn’t be infused with new meaning as a reaction to societal change. “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. Tuesday’s decision conflicts with a ruling last month by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals which says that Title VII does not cover claims of discrimination based on sexual identity. This conflict may be the catalyst that pushes the issue in front of the Supreme Court.

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