Seventh Circuit Poised to Grant Major Gay-Rights Victory
CHICAGO (CN) – At oral arguments Wednesday, the full Seventh Circuit clearly leaned toward granting gay and lesbian employees Title VII protection against being fired for their sexual orientation.
Under current federal law, a gay or lesbian employee can get married to their same-sex partner on Saturday, and be fired for exercising that right on Monday. An employer needs no other reason.
However, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act has been understood since 1989 to protect heterosexual employees from gender stereotyping.
This reading has created a very murky legal landscape where employers can legally fire an employee if they believe him or her to be gay, but cannot fire them for displaying characteristics stereotypical of the other sex.
As Seventh Circuit Judge David Hamilton framed the difficulty Wednesday, “I have trouble distinguishing looking gay from being gay.”
Chief Judge Diane Wood put it another way, joking that, “It’s only the phonies that get protection.”