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Federal Appeals Court Says Law Doesn’t Forbid Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation in the Workplace

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The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals  reaffirmed its earlier decision  holding that employees are not protected from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. This case is only the most recent in a series of suits being filed across the country, many of which provide differing guidance. In fact, two of the eleven judges  on the Eleventh Circuit  were strongly opposed to the decision.

Legal Precedent  

The incident that spawned the recent decision occurred in May 2016, when, according to the complaint, the plaintiff was fired as a court child welfare services coordinator after it was discovered that he was homosexual. Last year, a federal judge dismissed the case and the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the dismissal. In its opinion, the court cited to a 1979 opinion, in which a panel of judges held that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act doesn’t prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation in the workplace. In May, the court refused to re-address the issue. Unfortunately, the precedent alluded to by the Georgia court doesn’t include an analysis of the issue and simply stated that discharges based on homosexuality are not unlawful, leaving many critics calling for a more thorough and reasoned legal analysis.

The Eleventh Circuit decision  is in direct conflict with an April 2017 opinion issued by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that Title VII (the civil rights law) applied to sexual orientation in the same way that it applied to race, national origin, and religion. Earlier this year, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York reached the same conclusion, stating that although courts had previously held that Title VII didn’t cover sexual orientation, legal doctrine has since evolved to include sexual orientation as a protected characteristic. These conflicting opinions could prompt the Supreme Court to weigh in on the matter, which would offer clarity on an increasingly divisive issue.

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