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Appellate court ruling changes rules on workplace discrimination

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination based on a number of characteristics, including race, sex and national origin. Sexual orientation is one characteristic that is not explicitly mentioned by the Act. However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit attempted to put an end to workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation with a recent ruling in favor of an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College.

The federal appeals court ruled that Ivy Tech discriminated against the instructor, who is a lesbian, by not hiring her because of her sexual preference. The court also found that Ivy Tech's actions constituted sex discrimination as defined by Title VII, as they punished the instructor for not conforming to the "heterosexual" female stereotype.

Chief Judge Diane Wood stated that sex discrimination prohibits employers from making job decisions based on the fact that the employee or potential employee dresses, speaks or dates differently than other more stereotypical members of their respective sex.

The 8-3 ruling mirrors many lower court decisions in saying that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination and is therefore prohibited under law. However, some courts disagree and say that workplace discrimination against gays or lesbians is not prohibited under Title VII. The dissent in the Ivy Tech case stated that sexual orientation discrimination is not the same as sex discrimination in everyday life and therefore is not the same under Title VII. This recent ruling is a giant step forward for those involved in the LGBT movement.

Source: The Washington Post, "In landmark decision, a court finds that federal law bans workplace discrimination against gays," Sandhya Somashekhar, April 5, 2017

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