Metro Weekly

Lesbian professor settles sex discrimination lawsuit against college that denied her promotion

Despite settlement, it's still unclear whether courts believe sexual orientation discrimination is prohibited under Title VII

Kimberly Hively – Photo: Lambda Legal.

Kimberly Hively, a lesbian adjunct math professor who sued her employer for discrimination, has settled her lawsuit against Ivy Tech Community College, reports The Indiana Lawyer.

Lawyers for Hively and the college filed a joint mediation summary statement announcing the settlement on Aug. 1 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana. The terms of the agreement were not released to the public.

Hively, a 14-year employee of Ivy Tech, initially sued the college for denying her a full-time position and a promotion, alleging that it had discriminated against her because of her sexual orientation. She also alleged that that discrimination violated her rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which expressly forbids discrimination based on a person’s sex.

She also sought monetary damages of $1.7 million to cover the full-time pay, benefits, and pension amounts she lost, plus interest.

The district court dismissed her case on the premise that Title VII’s prohibitions on sex discrimination do not apply to instances where an LGBTQ person is discriminated against based on their sexual orientation. Hively subsequently appealed to the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

A three-judge panel on the 7th Circuit initially rejected Hively’s appeal, but she filed for the full circuit to rehear the case. In April 2017, a majority of the circuit judges ruled that Title VII does indeed protect LGBTQ people from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The 7th Circuit’s decision was historic, but the question of whether sexual orientation is covered under Title VII has not yet been resolved. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals recently determined that sexual orientation discrimination is inherently a form of sex discrimination. That decision has already been appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which has yet to decide whether it will hear the case.

But the 11th Circuit has repeatedly refused to even hear cases similar to Hively’s, including the case of Jameka Evans, a security guard at a Georgia hospital who claims she was repeatedly harassed at work and eventually forced to leave her job because of her sexual orientation and her refusal to adhere to feminine gender norms.

Additionally, a recent case out of Missouri may offer yet another glimpse at how federal courts may interpret claims brought under Title VII. The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to take up the case of a gay man who claims that he was discriminated against when the health care management company that offered him a job rescinded its offer after it found out he was gay.

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