A federal appeals court ruled for the first time Tuesday that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBT employees from workplace discrimination, setting up a likely battle before the Supreme Court as gay rights advocates push to broaden the scope of the 53-year-old law.
The decision by the full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago comes just three weeks after a three-judge panel in Atlanta ruled the opposite, saying employers aren’t prohibited from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation.
It also comes as President Donald Trump‘s administration has begun setting its own policies on LGBT rights. Late in January, the White House declared Trump would enforce an Obama administration order barring companies that do federal work from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. But in February, it revoked guidance on transgender students’ use of public school bathrooms, deferring to states.
The case stems from a lawsuit by Indiana teacher Kimberly Hively alleging that the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend didn’t hire her full time because she is a lesbian.
Hively said she agreed to bring the case because she felt she was being “bullied.”
She told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the time has come “to stop punishing people for being gay, being lesbian, being transgender.”
The Chicago ruling followed a so-called en banc hearing of all the judges in the appeals court, with eight agreeing that the civil rights law prohibits discrimination because of sexual orientation, and three dissenting. The vote is notable because the 7th Circuit is considered a relatively conservative appeals court. Eight out of the 11 judges were appointed by Republican presidents.
“This decision is 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,” said Greg Nevins, Employment Fairness Program Director for Lambda Legal, which brought the case on behalf of Hively.
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