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The U.S. Supreme Court may have to decide if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will protect LGBT workers from employer discrimination. 
The U.S. Supreme Court may have to decide if the Civil Rights Act of 1964 will protect LGBT workers from employer discrimination. 

You can still be fired for being gay - legally

A ruling in the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has prompted new discussions of workplace protection of LGBT employees.

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At a vital time in the United States, when conservative ideals are prominent in both the executive and legislative branches of government, a vital act on civil rights that affects all groups but especially those who may be marginalized due to race and religion may be up for reexamination due to an LGBT ruling this week. A U.S. appeals court in Chicago is facing the question of whether the 1964 Civil Rights Act's discrimination protections apply to LGBT workers in the same way as it does to other groups.

The federal court in the 7th Circuit made a decision Tuesday that stated employers in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin would be breaking federal law by showing bias against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender employees. And though in many states, there are no federal protections against firing employees for sexual orientation, this federal law would be the second step towards advancement in the fight for LGBT rights. 

“Despite the important progress our nation has made by ensuring access to marriage, in 32 states, LGBT Americans are still at risk of being denied services or being fired for getting married and wearing their wedding ring to the office the next day or simply for being who they are,” said JoDee Winterhof, Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs for the Human Rights Campaign in a statement to the organization.

“A federal non-discrimination bill will ensure that all employees are hired, fired or promoted based on their performance, not their sexual orientation or gender identity. Everyone should have a fair chance to earn a living and provide for their families, including gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. That’s why in the months ahead, the Human Rights Campaign is committed to working toward a federal non-discrimination bill that provides clear, consistent and equal protections under federal law for all Americans in vital areas of life.”

But because the ruling conflicts with all the others made by federal appellate courts since the 1970s, the U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately have to decide whether to uphold the Chicago ruling as national precedent or strike it down as judicial overreach.

Since November, the eleven 7th Circuit judges deliberated over the act and on Tuesday decided that the law also applied to LGBT employees. This issue has come up in 9 other federal cases and yet, all ruled opposite to this case, despite individual states deciding to protect their LGBT workforce regardless. 

The lawsuit introduced by an Indiana teacher, Kimberly Hively, when she claimed that Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend refused to hire her full time because she is a lesbian.

But the 53-year-old law does not specifically refer to sexual orientation, though Title VII does mention "sex." The controversial ruling from the 7th Circuit states that the word can actually also refer to orientation. 

In a concurring opinion, Judge Richard Posner wrote that changing norms call for a change in interpretation.

"We understand the words of Title VII differently, not because we're smarter than the statute's framers and ratifiers but because we live in a different era, a different culture," Posner wrote.

With the 7th Circuit's ruling on Civil Rights Act being one that works against the precedent, the chances of it being challenged only seem to increase with time.

And with President Trump's nominee for Supreme Couty being Neil Gorsuch, to replace Justice Antonin Scalia after his death, it's possible the judicial bend will also turn and that the final ruling may not be in the vein with the previous bench's decision to protect the rights of the LGBT community.

But as other courts have shown, Republican or Democratic leaning doesn't always indicate how the court will rule.

 

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