In the first ruling of its kind from a federal appeals court, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that federal civil rights laws bar discrimination in the workplace against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) workers. The decision was an 8-3 en banc ruling meaning it was heard by the all the judges, not just a panel.
Democrats have tried many times to introduce legislation like the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) to strengthen federal laws on discrimination to include LGBT employees. Many state laws make specific mention of LGBT workers and explicitly prohibit discrimination against them, but federal civil rights laws do not. There are currently 22 states that have laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation.
In this case, a part-time professor alleged that despite her qualifications, she was passed up for a job because she is a lesbian. Despite applying six times over five years for a full-time professorship, she said she was never even given a chance to interview for a full-time position at her college in South Bend, Indiana. She filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and received a right-to-sue letter. When she filed suit, the college moved to dismiss the case saying that sexual orientation is not a protected class under Title VII. The court agreed and dismissed the case, forcing her to appeal.
Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote the appeals court ruling on the case saying, “it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex.” The court found that therefore the federal law prohibiting discrimination based on sex extends also to sexual orientation.
Past rulings from federal appeals courts had ruled the opposite way although the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recently said that LGBT employees are protected from discrimination.
Judge Diane Sykes wrote the opinion of the three dissenting judges. She likened the ruling to “a statutory amendment courtesy of unelected judges,” and a “circumvention of the legislative process by which the people govern themselves.”
A federal panel in Atlanta from the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the opposite of the judges of the 7th circuit. Their 2-1 decision found that discrimination against gay workers is not prohibited. There, a hospital security guard alleged that her employer took aim to force her from her job because she is gay and did not meet their expectations of what women should look like.
Other judges in previous decisions felt that it was up to Congress to make sexual orientation a protected class.
Lambda Legal, an LGBT rights group, represented both women in the discrimination cases. They applauded the breakthrough decision in Indiana saying that federal law was finally aligning with general public opinion. According to the group, 90 percent of Americans support LGBT rights in the workplace. They plan to ask the 11th Circuit court to vacate the ruling in the hospital worker’s case and have the full court rehear it as happened in the 7th Circuit case.
Marlton Employment Lawyers at McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. Fight for LGBT Rights
There are many laws protecting LGBT workers and an experienced Marlton employment lawyer from McOmber McOmber & Luber, P.C. can help you if you have been discriminated against in the workplace. We will fight on your behalf to make sure you are compensated if you have been treated unfairly. For a free consultation about your case call our Marlton employment lawyers at 856-985-9800 or contact us online. We have offices in Marlton, Newark and Red Bank, New Jersey to serve you.