Court: Workplace discrimination against gays is prohibited by Civil Rights Act of 1964

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, based in Chicago, found that instructor Kimberly Hively was improperly passed over for a full-time job at Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend, Ind., because she was a lesbian. While the Civil Rights Act does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, it bars sex discrimination; the court concluded that the college engaged in sex discrimination by stereotyping Hively based on her gender.

“Hively represents the ultimate case of failure to conform to the female stereotype … she is not heterosexual,” Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote in Tuesday’s opinion. “Hively’s claim is no different from the claims brought by women who were rejected for jobs in traditionally male workplaces, such as fire departments, construction, and policing.”

The ruling echoes those of a number of lower courts, which have also concluded that discrimination against gays is a prohibited form of sex stereotyping. It conflicts, however, with others, including a ruling last month by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta, which interpreted Title VII of the Civil Rights Act more narrowly and found that sexual orientation is not a protected class under that law.

A split in the circuits could set up a clash before the Supreme Court.