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Landmark Decision Bans Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation

Published:  April 27, 2017

In a landmark decision, a federal court has issued a ruling on the case Kimberly Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.  This is the first time a federal court of appeals has found that Title VII's protections extend to sexual orientation. 

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employment discrimination because of a person's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.  However, the language of Title VII does not explicitly prohibit employment discrimination because of a person's sexual orientation. 

In Kimberly Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, the Appeals Court interpreted the language of Title VII's protections to extend to sexual orientation.  In this case, Kimberly Hively sued her employer, alleging that the university declined to promote her to a full time position several times, and subsequently failed to renew her part-time contract because she is a lesbian. Hively argued that if she were a heterosexual, her employer would have promoted her to a full time contract and not fired her.  Hively argued that the university actions constituted illegal employment discrimination on the basis of sex. 

The Court agreed with Hively that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation discrimination is tantamount to sex discrimination, and therefore constituted illegal discrimination under Title VII.  Ultimately, the Court concluded that "discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination".

Employers need to be aware that this decision increases the likelihood that the Supreme Court may address this issue in the near future.  Employers need to be wary that this area of the law is changing, and to make sure their policies are up to date in their respective jurisdictions.

If you have any questions about Title VII of the Civil Rights Act or Employment Discrimination employment, please contact any of the attorneys at Royal, P.C.

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