U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit Rules Against Lesbian Woman Who Faced Employment Discrimination

By Adam Polaski • July 29, 2016 • 11:47 am

This week the United States Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit rejected claims from a lesbian woman in Indiana who experienced employment discrimination. The appellate court, which has jurisdiction over Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, ruled that existing civil rights law – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – does not protect people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The court’s decision, based on an existing precedent from within the circuit, contradicts the growing trend over the past few years of judges finding that the “sex discrimination” included in Title VII also covers discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.


The case, brought by Lambda Legal, involved Kimberly Hively, who filed a discrimination complaint against Ivy Tech Community College. Hively had previously worked for Ivy Tech but was later denied full-time employment or opportunities for a promotion because she is a lesbian.

BuzzFeed‘s Chris Geidner reports that the judges’ decision seems conflicted, basing the decision largely on existing precedent. He wrote, “A clearly conflicted Judge Ilana Rovner, joined by Judge William Bauer, went on for more than 40 pages, however, detailing what Rovner described as ‘a paradoxical legal landscape in which a person can be married on Saturday and then fired on Monday for just that act.'”

Greg Nevins, Counsel and Employment Fairness Strategist for Lambda Legal, said last night:

“The Court acknowledges that this is the wrong outcome and repeats over and over again that the distinctions between discrimination on the basis of gender nonconformity which is prohibited by Title VII and sexual orientation discrimination — which the Court says isn’t prohibited under Title VII — is an arbitrary line; the distinction creates ‘an odd state of affairs’ because it’s a ‘false distinction.’ Nevertheless, the Court felt bound by prior Seventh Circuit case law. The writing is on the wall, the precedents the Court felt bound by need to be reconsidered and we need Congress to pass the Equality Act.”

Freedom for All Americans echoes Lambda Legal’s call for full federal non-discrimination protections. Until the United States Congress embraces the need for unequivocal non-discrimination protections that ensure no one can face legal discrimination because of who they are or who they love, hard-working Americans will continue to suffer and be disadvantaged, simply for living their lives. It’s time for our lawmakers to recognize that people like Kimberly Hively – and the many others who experience discrimination daily – must be rightfully protected by federal legislation.

Read the opinion here, and learn more about Lambda Legal’s work in the case.

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