While LGBTQ protections are gradually being scraped away by the Trump administration, a federal court made a landmark ruling on Tuesday affirming that civil rights laws protect LGBTQ Americans from employment discrimination.
Kim Hively, a math teacher in South Bend, IN, filed the case (Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College) in 2014 after the college, she said, forced her from her job when they found out she’s a lesbian.
“I have been saying all this time that what happened to me wasn’t right and was illegal. Now I will have my day in court, thanks to this decision,” Hively said in a statement after the ruling. “No one should be fired for being lesbian, gay, or transgender like happened to me and it’s incredibly powerful to know that the law now protects me and other LGBT workers.”
The case went through several rounds of appeals, but on Tuesday a full panel of judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Hively’s favor, writing in their ruling that Title VII protections against discrimination based on sex include sexual orientation.
“It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the ‘sex’ from ‘sexual orientation.’ The effort to do so has led to confusing and contradictory results,” they wrote in the opinion.
The ruling is especially significant given that judges re-examined previous rulings, including one made by a smaller panel of the same court against Hively in July last year.
Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote in the decision that employment discrimination against LGBTQ people must be viewed in light of the Supreme Court’s ruling affirming marriage equality. They wrote that if a gay or lesbian person can marry by federal law, allowing for employers to discriminate against them because of that marriage doesn’t hold.
Their final decision is that the employment discrimination protections included in the Civil Rights Act cover LGBTQ people. That’s a momentous step forward because it sets a new precedent for all employment discrimination cases brought by LGBTQ people nationally.
The ruling comes at a crucial moment for LGBTQ people’s civil rights, when the federal government is undeniably making moves to repeal federal protections.
Just last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order repealing Obama-era rules requiring companies that contract with the government to prove that they’re abiding by anti-discrimination measures. Previously, the administration walked back guidances from the Departments of Justice and Education instructing schools to support transgender students. And several members of the Trump administration have records of expressing anti-LGBTQ sentiments and supporting anti-LGBTQ policies.
In the case of trans guidances, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said it was because Trump believes trans students’ right to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity is a “states’ rights issue.”
In this environment, advocates and lawyers say the battles to defend and progress LGBTQ rights will likely play out in the courts in the years to come, in cases like Hively’s.
“This decision is game-changer for lesbian and gay employees facing discrimination in the workplace and sends a clear message to employers: it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation,” sGreg Nevins, Employment Fairness Program Director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement.
We’ve reached out to Ivy Tech Community College for comment on the case and will update if we hear back.
Update, 11:28 AM: In a statement to Fusion, Ivy Tech denied that they discriminated against Hively based on her sex or sexual orientation. “Ivy Tech Community College rejects discrimination of all types, sexual orientation discrimination is specifically barred by our policies,” their statement reads. “Ivy Tech respects and appreciates the opinions rendered by the judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and does not intend to seek Supreme Court review.”