Appeals Court Says Sex Discrimination Law Applies to Gay, Lesbian Discrimination

An appeals court ruled that a federal civil rights law on sex discrimination can now be used for sexual orientation discrimination claims, the first time an appellate court has concluded such.

In an 8-3 decision made Tuesday, the full court of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Kimberly Hively, a lesbian who sued Ivy Tech Community College, arguing that the school discriminated against her on the basis of her sexual orientation.

Authored by Judge Diane Wood, the decision concluded that Hively could sue Ivy Tech on the basis of violating Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which pertains in part to sex discrimination.

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"For many years, the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person's sexual orientation. The Supreme Court, however, has never spoken to that question," wrote Wood.

"In this case, we have been asked to take a fresh look at our position in light of developments at the Supreme Court extending over two decades. We have done so, and we conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination."

Judge Diane Sykes wrote the dissent, which was joined by two other justices on the Seventh Circuit, wherein she argued that the majority opinion goes against legal precedent regarding the interpretation of Title VII's ban on sex discrimination.

"What justification is offered for this radical change in a well-established, uniform interpretation of an important — indeed, transformational — statute? My colleagues take note of the Supreme Court's 'absence from the debate'," wrote Sykes.

"What debate? There is no debate, at least not in the relevant sense. Our long-standing interpretation of Title VII is not an outlier. From the statute's inception to the present day, the appellate courts have unanimously and repeatedly read the statute the same way, as my colleagues must and do acknowledge."

The Seventh Circuit's decision on Tuesday stands in contrast with a decision last month rendered by a three judge panel of the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

Steve Vladeck, professor of law at the University of Texas and legal analyst with CNN, explained Tuesday that this case will likely to go the United States Supreme Court.

"Federal anti-discrimination laws were always going to be the next battleground after the Supreme Court's gay marriage decision," said Vladeck to CNN.

"And in some respect, these laws are even more important, because they also apply to private parties — such as employers."

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