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Court rules federal law covers anti-LGBT workplace discrimination

Earlier this month, a federal appeals court issued a ruling that employers cannot fire workers because of their sexual orientation.

The ruling, which came from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects LGBT workers. The statute itself does not specifically prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, but the court sided with a teacher who claimed a community college engaged in sex discrimination under Title VII when failing to hire her for a full-time job because she is a lesbian.

In her opinion, Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote: "Any discomfort, disapproval, or job decision based on the fact that the complainant -- woman or man -- dresses differently, speaks differently, or dates or marries a same-sex partner, is a reaction purely and simply based on sex. That means that it falls within Title VII's prohibition against sex discrimination, if it affects employment in one of the specified ways."

Ruling could protect workers

Even though the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that gay people have the right to marry in 2015, many LGBT workers still experience workplace discrimination. Here in Michigan, there is no specific state law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, although many cities, like Detroit, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, have their own protections in place. With this federal precedent, Michigan courts may adopt the same coverage afforded to LGBT workers under state law as well.

What happens next?

While activists and LGBT workers praised the ruling, it is likely that this is not the last word. Earlier this year, a different federal appellate court ruled that the Civil Rights Act does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. The differing rulings mean that the issue could end up before the Supreme Court at some point in the near future. The Supreme Court could rule against the 7th Circuit at some point. That means workers who suffer discrimination may need to use local ordinances to best enforce their rights in the workplace.

If you have any questions about your rights or think that you have been the victim of discrimination, remember to contact an experienced employment law attorney as soon as possible. Your attorney will be able to evaluate your claim and help you determine the best way to proceed.

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