Wednesday, April 05, 2017

7th Circuit En Banc: Title VII Bars Sexual Orientation Discrimination

In an important decision handed down yesterday, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals sitting en banc held in an 8-3 decision that under title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.  In Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana, (7th Cir., April 4, 2017), Chief Judge Wood in her majority opinion stated in part:
The logic of the Supreme Court’s decisions, as well as the common-sense reality that it is actually impossible to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without discriminating on the basis of sex, persuade us that the time has come to overrule our previous cases that have endeavored to find and observe that line.
The lawsuit was filed by an adjunct professor who was rejected for full time positions and whose part-time contract was not renewed. She believes these actions were taken because she is a lesbian.

Judge Posner filed an interesting concurring opinion focusing on the issue of originalism in statutory interpretation.  He said in part:
It is well-nigh certain that homosexuality, male or female, did not figure in the minds of the legislators who enacted Title VII. I had graduated from law school two years before the law was enacted. Had I been asked then whether I had ever met a male homosexual, I would have answered: probably not; had I been asked whether I had ever met a lesbian I would have answered “only in the pages of À la recherche du temps perdu.” Homosexuality was almost invisible in the 1960s. It became visible in the 1980s as a consequence of the AIDS epidemic; today it is regarded by a large swathe of the American population as normal. But what is certain is that the word “sex” in Title VII had no immediate reference to homosexuality; many years would elapse before it could be understood to include homosexuality.
A diehard “originalist” would argue that what was believed in 1964 defines the scope of the statute for as long as the statutory text remains unchanged, and therefore until changed by Congress’s amending or replacing the statute. But as I noted earlier, statutory and constitutional provisions frequently are interpreted on the basis of present need and understanding rather than original meaning.
Judge Flaum joined by Judge Ripple also filed a concurring opinion.

Judge Sykes, joined by Judges Bauer and Kanne dissented, saying in part:
The majority deploys a judge-empowering, common-law decision method that leaves a great deal of room for judicial discretion. So does Judge Posner in his concurrence. Neither is faithful to the statutory text, read fairly, as a reasonable person would have understood it when it was adopted. The result is a statutory amendment courtesy of unelected judges. Judge Posner admits this; he embraces and argues for this conception of judicial power. The majority does not, preferring instead to smuggle in the statutory amendment under cover of an aggressive reading of loosely related Supreme Court precedents. Either way, the result is the same: the circumvention of the legislative process by which the people govern themselves.
Advocate reports on the decision.