Civil Rights laws from 52 years ago might hold the answer for LGBT anti-discrimination protections

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A US Circuit Court is considering whether civil rights laws from 52 years ago could protect LGBT people too.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing the case, brought by Kimberly Hively – a woman who alleges she was denied full-time work and promotions at an Indiana community college because she is a lesbian.


As there are no federal laws protecting LGBT people from discrimination, and as Indiana has no anti-discrimination protections based on sexuality, there is little legal recourse Ms Hively could take.

However, she is waging a legal battle that may have a historic precedent, by contending that Title VII of 1964’s Civil Rights Act could protect people from discrimination based on their sexuality.

Title VII states: “it shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer to discriminate against any individual… because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin”.

Ms Hively contends that the definition of the sex characteristic necessarily entails people being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

Lower courts have affirmed that “sexual orientation discrimination is beyond the scope of the statute”, however hopes are high following the Supreme Court ruling on equal marriage last year.

Buzzfeed reports that in a previous ruling, Judge Ilana Rovner acknolwdged the “paradoxical legal landscape in which a person can be married on Saturday and then fired on Monday for just that act”.

The judge wrote: “We can see no rational reason to entertain sex discrimination claims for those who defy gender norms by looking or acting stereotypically gay or lesbian (even if they are not), but not for those who are openly gay but otherwise comply with gender norms.”

Separate cases in lower courts are considering whether Title VII protects people based on gender identity.