Appeals court rules that LGBT employees are a protected class

A federal appeals court recently ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation. The ruling is the first recognition of such rights extending to LGBT employees.

The full panel of judges for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit heard the matter; ruling 8-3 that an employee who was denied employment at an Indiana community college because she was lesbian violated the landmark civil rights act that has stood as the social barometer for workplace inclusivity for more than 50 years. 

The case is being applauded for being a progressive ruling coming from a conservative bench. In fact, the panel is known for being one of the most conservative in the nation, with several judges being republican appointees. Nevertheless, the chief judge reasoned that the case was no different from claims brought by female employees who had been rejected for other jobs in traditionally male workplaces, such as construction sites, police departments and fire departments.

Before this case, courts have been notoriously resistant to include sexual orientation as a protected class. One judge writing in dissent noted that the court was not authorized to “update” the law to respond to new or changing economic, political or social conditions. However, many believe that the founding fathers created the constitution (and its amendments) to do just that.

Regardless, the case is a landmark change in how employment discrimination cases involving LGBT employees will be viewed. If you have questions about your rights and options under the 1964 Civil Rights Act, an experienced employment law attorney can advise you. 

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