The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a landmark decision on the rights of LGBT employees, recognizing that the 1964 Civil Rights Act (Title VII) prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Title VII specifically prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, sex and national origin, but it does not have express language preventing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But some cases have defined discrimination based on sex to include discrimination based on sex stereotyping or failure to comply with gender norms, such as in the Supreme Court’s ruling in 1989’s Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins.
Yesterday’s ruling in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College took this reasoning a step further. The ruling was the result of a lawsuit filed by Kimberly Hively, a part-time instructor at Ivy Tech Community College, who claimed the college did not hire her full-time because she is a lesbian.
In her opinion, Chief Judge Diane P. Wood explained that “Hively represents the ultimate case of failure to conform to the female stereotype . . . : she is not heterosexual.” Accordingly, the Court determined that Hively’s case was “no different from 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.”
In doing so, the 7th Circuit becomes the first federal appellate court to make this determination, while other circuit courts have reached contrary conclusions. Given the split, it becomes more likely for the question to reach the Supreme Court. This is good news for LBGT rights as it could set in motion federal protections, which would supersede any state laws to the contrary.
Protections for LGBTQ employees are clear under Minnesota state law. The Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”) has banned discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation since 1993. The MHRA explicitly prohibits discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations, public services, and education based on a person’s sex, sexual orientation. The term sexual orientation is broadly defined in the statute to include both gay and transgender individuals.
If you believe that you suffered an adverse employment action because of your sexual orientation or another discriminatory reason, we encourage you to seek legal counsel. At Schaefer Halleen, LLC, we have extensive experience successfully advocating on behalf of people in your and other discriminatory situations.