Last month, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases in several Midwest states, issued a judicial ruling that sexual orientation claims are actionable under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The ruling came in response to a suit in Indiana, Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. It adds support to a July 2016 administrative opinion, issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in relation to a separate suit. There, the EEOC stated that “…discrimination based on sexual orientation is necessarily an allegation of sex discrimination under Title VII.”
Although the Hively ruling doesn’t directly impact companies outside the 7th Circuit Court’s jurisdiction, it sets a precedent that other courts may follow. Employers across the U.S. should be on alert for similar legislation that may impact hiring and employment practices in their areas.
In addition to judicial rulings, state or local laws can require employers to extend discrimination protections to LGBT workers or applicants. For example, Wisconsin and Illinois (both of which are in the 7th District) currently have laws that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as do approximately half of U.S. states. No Georgia law has been enacted that protects workers or applicants from discrimination based on sexual or gender identity, although Clarke County and the cities of Decatur and Pine Lake protect government workers, and Atlanta protects all employees against gender identity-based discrimination.
Regarding judicial rulings in Georgia, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (which presides over Georgia appeal cases) in December 2011 upheld an earlier ruling that that gender-nonconformity is protected by the federal prohibition on sex discrimination. This ruling essentially provides legal protections to transgender and gender non-conforming employees in Georgia. However, it could be construed to exclude those who self-identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual but do not dress or act in a non-conforming manner.