A currently ongoing case in the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals could potentially set into motion new and valuable workplace protections for LGBT employees. Indiana teacher Kimberly Hively is alleging that her former employer, Ivy Tech Community College, treated her unfairly and fired her for her sexual orientation.
In August 2014, Hively had filed a lawsuit against Ivy Tech, claiming that under their employment, she had been denied promotions and fair treatment. After being seen kissing her girlfriend, Hively (then an adjunct professor) had been reproved by the university, and was unable to become a full-time teacher despite numerous applications. Then in 2014, she was fired, which she said “stripped me of my livelihood, my ability to support myself and to be independent.” The court dismissed her claim, but in October decided to vacate their ruling and rehear the case en banc.
Under current federal law, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act bans workplace discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. It doesn’t expressly include sexual orientation, but Greg Nevins, a Lambda Legal attorney representing Hively, is arguing that the law protects LGBT employees as well. He cites the 1989 Supreme Court case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, which ruled that under Title VII, employers cannot discriminate against workers who don’t conform to gender norms. In that case, Nevins claims, heteronormativity is intrinsically tied to gender norms, meaning Title VII protects LGBT employees.
There are currently several other nationwide similar cases grappling with this question, including two in New York and one in Georgia. The 7th Circuit panel has not yet set a ruling date for Hively vs. Ivy Tech, but we’ll keep an eye out for the other cases set for December and January.