A Federal Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Job Protections for Gay Workers

Last week a federal court of appeals ruled the existing Title VII statute of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sexual discrimination in the workplace, includes discrimination based on sexual orientation – a huge employment victory for the LGBTQ+ community.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago, which only covers federal lawsuits out of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin, sat en bac last Tuesday to hear the case of Kimberly Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. (En bac means “full court” – when an appeals court sits en bac it can review and reverse its prior rulings.) Hively, who is openly lesbian, started teaching at Ivy Tech in 2000 as a part-time math teacher. She applied for six full-time positions between 2009 – 2014 and was denied every time, but to add insult to injury, her contract was not renewed in July 2014. Feeling certain that is was because of her sexual orientation, she filed a pro se (“on her own behalf”) charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2013 and went on to file a lawsuit against Ivy Tech in district court. She represented herself because she said no lawyer thought she would win. Unfortunately, the district court granted the school's motion to drop the case based on a previous 7th Circuit Court decision (Hammer v. St. Vincent Hospital and Health Care Center, Inc., 2000) that stated sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII. Hively responded by filing an appeal against the court and the 7th Circuit agreed to hear the case.

The judges ruled with an 8-to-3 vote in favor of Hively. The ruling not only reversed the court’s past decisions on the matter but made the 7th Circuit Court the highest federal court to rule in favor for protection of sexual orientation-based discrimination under the existing Title VII.

“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 that the time has come to overrule our previous

cases that have endeavored to find and observe that line.”

-       Chief Judge Diane Wood

Jeff Fanter, Senior VP for Communication and Marketing at Ivy Tech, has said the school “respects and appreciates” the ruling of the court and is not seeking to appeal its decision. The court, however, did not specifically rule on Hively’s case, but it did rule on its nature which allows her case to continue in a lower court after previously being dismissed. The college is ready to fight Hively’s claim of discrimination being the reason she was never promoted and her contract was not renewed, but as for now, like the Lambda Legal CEO, Rachel Tiven, said, “Love won again today.”

View the court’s official decision here