In explaining why the court was taking the step it took Tuesday, Wood detailed the role of the court - and the changed legal circumstances for gay people in America today, detailing the line of Supreme Court decisions over 20 years that culminated in 2015's Supreme Court decision ending state bans on same-sex couples' marriages.
Eight of 11 judges on the appellate court ruled that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
"The logic of the Supreme Court's decisions, as well as the common-sense reality that it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex, persuades us", wrote the majority, "that the time has come to overrule our previous cases that have endeavored to find and observe that line".
The case was brought by Kimberly Hively, a part-time math teacher for a small community college in Indiana.
"With this historic decision, the 7th Circuit is the first federal appellate court to acknowledge that discrimination because a person is gay, lesbian or bisexual can only reasonably be understood as discrimination based on sex", Minter continued. Now the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, in full session, ruled in her favor, allowing her case to go forward. "The Supreme Court, however, has never spoken to that question". ( finding that Title VII's sexual harassment protections exist in cases where the harasser is the same sex as the victim), have expanded the traditional notions of Title VII sex discrimination protections beyond that which may have originally be contemplated when Title VII was passed.
"This decision is a 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", said Greg Nevins, Employment Fairness Program Director for Lambda Legal. Surely a decision so rooted in sex-based considerations constitutes discrimination "because of sex". For example, one issue not addressed by the 7th Circuit is how this new theory will affect religious institutions given that different standards apply to them under federal antidiscrimination laws.
Title VII, "now more than half a century old, invites an interpretation that will update it to the present, a present that differs markedly from the era in which the act was enacted", Posner said.
Ivy Tech College denies the accusation but said it would not appeal the court's ruling. "Now I will have my day in court, thanks to this decision", she said.
But in its April 4 decision in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of in, the full 7th Circuit court ruled that sexual orientation was covered by the federal civil rights law, making it the first federal appeals court to so rule.
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At the same time, they have been met with a wave of state laws created to protect the religious freedom of employers and others.
What activists want to do is expand the existing civil rights protections to also protect LGBTQ people.
Judge Richard Posner argued forcefully in a separate concurrence against the originalist interpretation of Title VII supported by Sykes' dissent, and said the law should be read with modern eyes.
Writing for the majority, Judge Diane Wood found that discrimination based on sexual orientation is rooted in an individual's perception of gender stereotypes. "This describes paradigmatic sex discrimination". Similarly, if someone discriminates against a trans woman, that's largely based on the expectation that a person designated male at birth should identify as a man - again, a belief built on the idea of what a person of a certain sex assigned at birth should be like.
LGBTQ advocates, citing legal precedent, say that what the original laws' authors believe or intended is irrelevant.
Then, in what one observer termed a "rare" decision, the same court decided in November to rehear the case. "In common, ordinary usage in 1964-and now, for that matter-the word "sex" means biologically male or female; it does not also refer to sexual orientation", the dissent pleads.
"Oncale says that's irrelevant whether [Congress] contemplated it", Block previously told me. When an employer discriminates against a worker for switching sexes, he is literally engaging in discrimination "because of sex". "Whether or not that's what Congress was focused on doesn't make it any less a type of discrimination covered by the statute". Initially, federal courts took the position that "sex" should be interpreted narrowly. It's now up to other federal courts, particularly the US Supreme Court, to affirm or reject the decision. Sexual orientation is notably not covered under Title VII and lower courts had tossed her case out for that reason.
The Seventh Circuit covers federal lawsuits out of Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.