Seventh Circuit’s New Ruling: Title VII Prohibits Sexual Orientation Discrimination

By Kelsey Basten

Published on May 9, 2017

On April 4, 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit ruled that discrimination against an employee based on his or her sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination and violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Case Background

It all began back in 2013 when Kimberly Hively filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) claiming that Ivy Tech, her employer since 2000, had discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation.

The school had refused to interview her for any of the open full time positions, even though Hively had the necessary qualifications. She claimed the school did not consider her for the positions, and ultimately terminated her, because she is a lesbian.

A federal district court in Indiana dismissed her case in 2014. It concluded sexual orientation did not fall under the umbrella of sex discrimination because Title VII was created to combat sex discrimination based on gender, not sexuality. Hively appealed the decision in 2015 to the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, however it was not successful. She then requested a rehearing of the case by the entire court and was granted the appeal in 2016.

The Ruling

In November 2016, Hively’s case was brought to the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The court ruled 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 Title VII purposes.” The court came to this decision because it is impossible to discriminate based on sexual orientation without discriminating based on sex.

What Does This Mean for the Future?

The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals is the highest court in the country to rule that Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation. It is unknown how this will affect cases like these in the future, but many employers have taken steps to promote inclusive, non-discriminatory environments by implementing their own anti-discrimination workplace policies.

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