In a ground-breaking ruling this week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit ruled in an en banc opinion that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. In Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, the plaintiff was fired from her teaching job after she was seen kissing her then girlfriend in a parking lot. Writing for the 8-3 Majority, Chief Judge Diane Wood said Hively’s case was covered under the law because it “is no different from the claims brought by women who were rejected for jobs in traditionally male workplaces, such as fire departments, construction, and policing. The employers in those cases were policing the boundaries of what jobs or behaviors they found acceptable for a woman (or in some cases, for a man).” The case is significant for several reasons. Notably, the 7th Circuit is generally considered to lean conservative, and 5 of the 8 judges in the majority were appointed by Republican Presidents. It is groundbreaking because courts have consistently held prior to this case that sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII.
The issue will most likely be ultimately decided by the Supreme Court as the Hively decision is in direct conflict with an 11th Circuit decision handed down just weeks earlier in Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital. In Evans, the Court found that Title VII does not protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation.