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Federal court to rule again on whether US Civil Rights Act covers gay discrimination

Federal court to rule again on whether US Civil Rights Act covers gay discrimination

Kimberly HIvely and her lawyer, Greg Nevins of Lambda Legal

A 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in the US has vacated a previous ruling and said that it will fully review a case regarding a lesbian who claims that her former employer discriminated against her because of her sexuality.

In August, a three-judge panel at the 7th Circuit Court ruled on the case, Hively vs. Ivy Tech College, stating that discrimination based upon sexual orientation is not protected by Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

This surprised LGBTI advocates, including HRC, as well as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Last year, the EEOC said that gay people were covered from workplace prejudice by the 1964 Act, saying such discrimination was a form of sex bias.

Kimberly Hively, a law professor, took employer Ivy Tech Community College to district court alleging workplace discrimination dating back to 2014 and claiming she been denied a promotion six times for being a lesbian. Hively was represented by Lambda Legal.

In August, US Circuit Judge Ilana Rovner, in a 42-page ruling, threw out the lawsuit, noting that the current federal law was unclear when it came to handling sexual orientation workplace discrimination cases.

At the time, Hively’s legal representatives, Lambda Legal, said they were ‘surprised’ and intended to seek an ‘en banc’ review of the case. This is when the three-judge ruling is reviewed by the wider 7th Circuit Court.

‘It’s a modern day “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the workplace’

On Tuesday, the court, based in Chicago, announced it was granting the ‘en banc’ review – which is a fairly rare occurence. The review is due to take place 30 November. The decision was welcomed by Hively’s legal team.

‘For too long, LGBT employees have been forced to conceal their true identity at work out of fear of backlash and discrimination,’ said Greg Nevins, counsel and employment fairness strategist for Lambda Legal, in a statement.

‘It’s a modern day “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the workplace. Not only is it wrong, it’s illegal — and we need the court to make it clear.’

Hively was based at Ivy Tech College’s South Bends campus. The college has consistently denied the allegations of bias.

Spokesperson Jeffery Fanter told Bloomberg BNA that the institute ‘does not condone, and in fact explicitly prohibits, employment discrimination based upon a person’s sexual orientation.’

The decision by the 7th Circuit to review the case increases the likelihood that the US Supreme Court may ultimately rule whether federal workplace-discrimination laws should cover sexual orientation.