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Federal Court Rules LGBTQ Employees Protected Against Workplace Discrimination Under Civil Rights Act

Kathy Willens
Kathy Willens/AP

"Today’s ruling is a monumental victory for fairness in the workplace."

The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today in Chicago that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ employees from workplace discrimination. This marks the first time a federal appellate court has ruled this way, and rejects an earlier decision made in July that argued such discrimination was not prohibited under Title VII.

"This critically important Circuit Court decision has adopted a well-grounded legal analysis concluding that our nation's civil rights laws include sexual orientation," said Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. "Today's ruling is a monumental victory for fairness in the workplace, and for the dignity of lesbian, gay and bisexual Americans who may live in fear of losing their job based on whom they love."

Tuesday's ruling originates from a lawsuit by Indiana teacher Kimberly Hively, who alleged the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend refused to hire her full-time because she was a lesbian. Arguing she was "bullied," Hively brought the case to court with representation from Lambda Legal Defense, and told the Associated Pressthat it's time "to stop punishing people for being gay, being lesbian, being transgender."

Though the issue could eventually land before the Supreme Court, a GOP-majority House and Senate make it unlikely the Congress will ever amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which concludes that "discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination."

Lambda Legal Employment Fairness Program Director Greg Nevins said, "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." Before today's ruling, Nevins said you couldn't legally "discriminate against a woman because she rides a Harley, had Bears tickets or has tattoos," but you could've if she was a lesbian.

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