A new case from the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has broadened the scope of federal protections against employment discrimination.
In Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College, the court allowed a plaintiff to proceed with a lawsuit alleging that her employer had denied her a promotion because she is a lesbian. In so doing, the Seventh Circuit became the first federal appellate court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964’s prohibition of discrimination “on the basis of sex” includes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. This decision represents a significant expansion of federal anti-discrimination law and will increase access to justice for many employees who have been illegally discriminated against.
It remains to be seen how this decision will affect employment law nationally. Seventh Circuit decisions are only applicable in Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin. Because the Hively decision disrupts uniformity in federal law, the Supreme Court may decide to address this issue for the first time. A Supreme Court decision would be applicable throughout the country.
In Massachusetts, employees are already protected from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation by G.L. Chapter 151B. However, if the Supreme Court were to agree with the Seventh Circuit, Massachusetts employees would have the additional protection of being able to raise federal discrimination claims under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
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