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Seventh Circuit Finds No Protection For Sexual Orientation Discrimination

In a major decision on this issue, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Title VII does not offer protection against sexual orientation discrimination.

Kimberly Hively worked as an adjunct professor at Ivy Tech Community College. She claimed that her contract was not renewed nor was she promoted to full-time professor because she was openly gay. She sued. The court of appeals concluded that it was bound by prior cases in the circuit that had rejected sexual-orientation bias cases under Title VII as well as a lack of congressional action to amend federal civil rights laws to expressly include protection for gay employees. This holding was distinguished from prior decisions that had offered gay employees protection under a sexual stereotyping theory. It was noted that the line between sexual stereotyping and sexual orientation discrimination is a very difficult one for courts to grapple with.

The Seventh Circuit looked carefully at the EEOC's decision in Baldwin v. Fox, and its bulletin on the issue. The EEOC's opinions were given deference, however, such rulings were not binding on the court. In its opinion, the court noted that "[p]erhaps the writing is on the wall" for a different outcome in the future. However, the court contended that the change must come from the U.S. Supreme Court or Congress.