A federal appeals court decided on Tuesday that a workplace non-discrimination clause in a civil rights law offers protections to LGBT employees, ruling in favor of a woman who claimed that a community college was discriminatory in denying her employment.
The ruling came in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit with an 8-3 vote among the judges, and stated that sex discrimination can also include discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”
“We conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination,” Chief Judge Diane P. Wood wrote in the majority opinion.
Kimberly Hively filed the lawsuit against Ivy Tech Community College. She had applied to several full-time jobs at the school and had also been working there part-time. However, she did not get offers for any of the full-time positions, and the school did not renew her part-time contract in 2014.
According to Lambda Legal, a legal group which has been representing Hively in court, her employment was denied after “she had been seen kissing her then-girlfriend in the parking lot of the school.”
The community college denied the claims, but said it will not pursue the case to the Supreme Court.
“The college denies that it discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of her sex or sexual orientation and will defend the plaintiff’s claims on the merits in the trial court,” Jeff Fanter, the senior vice president for communication and marketing at the community college, was quoted as saying by The New York Times.
In the majority opinion, Wood stated the incident can be seen as sex discrimination because “[a]ny 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 Diane Sykes, writing for the dissenting judges, said that the comparison the majority judges made is insufficient to make that case.
“The court’s reasoning essentially distills to this: If we compare Hively, a homosexual woman, to hypothetical Professor A, a heterosexual man, we can see that Ivy Tech is actually disadvantaging Hively because she is a woman,” Sykes wrote in the dissent.
“As a test for isolating an actual case of sex discrimination, that way of framing the comparative question doesn’t do the trick,” she continued. “Simply put, the comparison can’t do its job of ruling in sex discrimination as the actual reason for the employer’s decision (by ruling out other possible motivations) if we’re not scrupulous about holding everything constant except the plaintiff’s sex. That includes sexual orientation.”
Meanwhile, though the college said it would not appeal to the Supreme Court, some legal experts believe the high court may address the issue, as similar cases have been ruled on in different ways in other federal courts across the country.