Seventh Circuit Ruling: Title VII Does Not Encompass Sexual Orientation Discrimination
Yesterday, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals (with appellate jurisdiction over Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin), in the case of Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, rejected the view of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 permits individuals to pursue discrimination charges based on sexual orientation. The EEOC has taken a similar position in regard to discrimination based on gender identity status and so, presumably, this ruling also applies to such claims. The Court stated that its “precedent has been unequivocal in holding that Title VII does not redress sexual orientation discrimination.” The Court did acknowledge that the U.S. Supreme Court may take up this issue in the future and reach a different result. It also acknowledged that Congress might decide in the future to pass a law that expands the scope of Title VII.
The Court noted in its ruling that many other courts throughout the country have adopted the EEOC’s position. Nevertheless, the Court stated that the federal district courts that had upheld the EEOC’s view had not developed a “rational answer” as to how Title VII could be extended in the manner endorsed by the EEOC. However, the Court allowed that an individual may pursue a gender discrimination claim when adverse treatment is based on a “gender non-conformity” (e.g., mannerisms, appearance, and behaviors at work that do not conform to gender stereotypes).
While the Court’s decision will affect discrimination cases based on Title VII, employers must keep in mind that many states, in fact, more than half of them, have enacted laws that prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In addition, many cities have enacted similar ordinances. Therefore, individuals who believe that they are victims of this type of discrimination (at least in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin) may become more active in pursuing their rights under state and local laws. Finally, the federal government has issued a series of executive orders that affect federal contractors and require those contractors to adhere to non-discrimination standards that extend to sexual orientation and gender identity status. It is of continuing importance for all employers to ensure that they understand their obligations under a variety of employment laws that affect them.
For more information on the ruling, contact Michael Blickman
or a member of our Employment Discrimination and Civil Rights Law
This publication is intended for general information purposes only and does not and is not intended to constitute legal advice. The reader should consult with legal counsel to determine how laws or decisions discussed herein apply to the reader’s specific circumstances.