Federal Court Says Civil Rights Act Covers LGBT Discrimination at Work

JM Ashby
Written by JM Ashby

As Joe Biden might say, this is a big fuckin' deal.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last night that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation.

The 8-3 decision by the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, which overturned a three-judge panel's ruling, represents another step in the effort by gay rights groups to extend their 2015 nationwide victory on same-sex marriage to other areas, including employment.

"It is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex," Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote for the majority. "It would require considerable calisthenics to remove the 'sex' from 'sexual orientation.'"

This is a big deal because, in many states, it's still legal to fire someone for being gay. At least it was before this ruling.

Notably, one of the most traditionally conservative judges in the country, Judge Richard Posner, concurred with the majority opinion.

Judge Richard Posner, one of eight 7th Circuit judges appointed by Republican presidents, issued a lengthy concurrence. "I don’t see why firing a lesbian because she is in the subset of women who are lesbian should be thought any less a form of sex discrimination than firing a woman because she’s a woman," he said.

Posner's opinion could be read another way, but I digress.

The dissenting judges opined that Congress should protect LGBT Americans from discrimination in the workplace. That's a great idea, but our Republican-controlled Congress has repeatedly rejected the idea.

It's an amusing circle jerk. Republicans in Congress say they don't need to pass protections for LGBT Americans because they're already covered (they weren't until last night's 7th Circuit ruling), but conservative judges say Congress should pass protections.

Maybe they're both right. And wrong.

  • muselet

    Good for the Seventh Circuit. It’s about time.


    Writing for the court’s dissenters, Judge Diane Sykes called the ruling “momentous” but said it was the equivalent of “a statutory amendment courtesy of unelected judges,” resulting in “the circumvention of the legislative process by which the people govern themselves.”

    The majority opinion also said it was not deciding whether the case might have come out differently had Ivy Tech been a religious institution.

    “We hold only that a person who alleges that she experienced employment discrimination on the basis of her sexual orientation has put forth a case of sex discrimination” for purposes of federal civil rights law.

    Last month, by a 2-1 vote, a federal appeals panel in Atlanta reached the opposite conclusion in the case of Jameka Evans, who claimed she was targeted for termination because she didn’t “carry herself in a traditional woman manner” in her job as a hospital security officer.

    Only someone who will never face employment discrimination could present with a *ahem* straight face either Diane Sykes’s Olympian argument about legislatures and self-government or the majority’s waffle about religious institutions.

    Also, the divide between the 7th and 11th Circuits means this case is almost certain to go to the Supreme Court, and you don’t have to be Kreskin to predict the decision or the split.


    • Christopher Foxx

      courtesy of unelected judges

      Any time someone complains about “unelected judges” you know they have no substantive arguments. If they had valid arguments against with a judge’s decision they would give them. Attacking how the judge got their job is just an ad hominem attack (and a flat out admission that they got no legitimate objection to the ruling).