New Interpretation of Title VII Could Expand Protections for Workers

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit recently announced a ruling that may represent a shift in the way Title VII cases are addressed in the future. In Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, the appeals court found that discrimination based on sexual orientation was actionable under Title VII and was, in fact, “a subset of actions taken on the basis of sex.” This finding represents a significant break with previous interpretations of Title VII protections and may lead to review by the Supreme Court of the United States.
Alleged Employment Discrimination

The plaintiff in the original case, Kimberly Hively, first filed charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in December 2013. In her filed documents, she indicated that she had applied for at least six full-time positions with Ivy Tech Community College between 2009 and 2014. During that time, she worked part-time as an adjunct professor for the institution and was openly lesbian. It was Ms. Hively’s contention that the community college had discriminated against her based on her sexual orientation. She was terminated from her employment with Ivy Tech in July 2014.

Prior Court Cases Decided Differently

The appeals court noted that previous decisions, including Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. and Health Care Ctr., Inc. in 2000 and Ulane v. Eastern Airlines, Inc. in 1984, had made a distinction between discrimination based on gender and discrimination based on sexual orientation. The Seventh Circuit, however, found that gender stereotypes could be grounds for Title VII charges and noted that the act of being lesbian, gay or bisexual could be seen as failing to comply with gender stereotypes. The court also indicated that the recent Supreme Court decision allowing gay couples to marry had an impact on their ruling as well.

Case Remanded Back to District Court

The Seventh Circuit Appeals Court reversed the original district court dismissal of the charges and remanded the case for further proceedings. The appeals court further went on to state that, in its view, discrimination based on sexual orientation is in fact a form of sex discrimination. A representative of Ivy Tech has made a statement indicating that it does not intend to pursue an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. The educational institution, however, does contest the claim made by Ms. Hively that she was discriminated against during her tenure with Ivy Tech and intends to challenge the matter on a factual basis.

For those who may have been the victim of discrimination in the workplace, seeking the help of a knowledgeable and experienced attorney can be a solid first step toward protecting legal rights and ensuring fair compensation for these issues. The New York City employment law experts at Risman & Risman can provide professional legal guidance and representation to ensure the best possible outcomes for your case. Call 212-233-6400 today to schedule a free consultation with the dedicated lawyers at Risman & Risman. We’re here to serve you.

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