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Landmark decision extends workplace discrimination protections

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit has jurisdiction over courts in Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana. The court recently issued a decision in a case from Indiana that holds that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The ruling has been hailed as "an emphatic declaration from a bipartisan group of judges that anti-gay workplace discrimination is clearly illegal under federal law."

In Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, an openly gay professor (Hively) sued her former employer (Ivy Tech), accusing the school of discriminating against her on the basis of sexual orientation.

Two years ago, a district court sided with the school, declaring that Title VII doesn't prohibit sexual preference discrimination. Last year, a panel for the 7th Circuit said that a pair of precedents required that the district court ruling be affirmed. But the panel urged the full court to reconsider those precedents.

The National Law Review noted that the Seventh Circuit is the highest court to hold that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII.

The Seventh Circuit said it used "common sense reality" to decide 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."

Will this court ruling resolve the legal disputes over Title VII? It seems unlikely. The U.S. Supreme Court might well have to weigh in.

Contact the law firm of Alan C. Olson & Associates, s.c., to discuss your case.

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