Split of Authority: Discrimination and Title VII

In a recent decision on April 4, 2017 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, the court held in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited under Title VII.  Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees from discrimination from employers.  Title VII prohibits discrimination based on an “individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” 42 U.S.C.A. § 2000e-3.  In Hively, a former professor at Ivy Tech Community College alleged discrimination based on her sexual orientation when the college denied her a full time position and failed to renew her part-time contract.  The court held that the statute’s protection against sex discrimination includes protection against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Seventh Circuit is the first federal appellate court to hold that Title VII protects against workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.  The Seventh Circuit consists of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana.

On the contrary, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals expressly held in Evans v, Georgia Regional Hospital in March of 2017 that Title VII does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination.  In Evans, Jameka Evans was a security officer at Georgia Regional Hospital in Atlanta.  She claimed the hospital discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation by denying her equal pay, targeting for termination, and retaliation.

The Eleventh Circuit consists of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama.

What does the split in authority mean for employers?

Because there is a federal split in authority, the Supreme Court of the United States may step in.  Alternatively, the 11th Circuit may review the decision en banc similar to the 7th Circuit decision.  Furthermore, Employers should note that the recent decision by the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit only applies to Illinois, Wisconsin, and Indiana.  Similarly, employers should keep in mind state and local laws regarding proper employment practices; however, employers should be conscious of the possibility of a possible Supreme Court ruling in the future.

If you have any questions regarding employment law please contact us.  We look forward to assisting you with your questions and concerns.

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