Appellate court ruling provides shake-up to employment law

On Behalf of | Apr 19, 2017 | Employment Discrimination |

There aren’t many people who pay close attention to court rulings, but many of our readers probably saw the news about a holding in a case in the Seventh Circuit federal court of appeals that could affect those who have concerns about employment discrimination. The holding was the first of its kind in all American courts, and could lead to a review by the Supreme Court of the United States.

In the ruling, the appellate court held that, under federal law, “sex discrimination” encompasses not only discrimination based on a person’s gender, but also a person’s sexual orientation. This could have a significant impact on employee rights in America because, prior to this ruling, there was no federal law that specifically held that sexual orientation could be a basis for employment discrimination. Some states, however, have taken the step to enact legislation that protects workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation.

There are several reasons why this particular ruling is significant. First, the ruling comes from a panel of the entire Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals – it overruled an earlier decision by a smaller three-judge panel of the court. But, perhaps most significant, this holding by the Seventh Circuit is contrary to the rulings from other federal appellate courts. When this happens, there is a “split” in the federal courts, which oftentimes prompts a review by the U.S. Supreme Court to make an ultimate determination.

For now, this ruling affects the states and courts in the Seventh Circuit’s jurisdiction – which includes our neighbor-state Wisconsin. However, if the ruling is reviewed at the highest level, it could impact all states and courts.

Source: The National Law Review, “Seventh Circuit Rules Title VII Bars Sexual Orientation Discrimination, Creating Circuit Split and Setting Stage for Likely Supreme Court Review,” George M. Patterson and Donald C. David, April 12, 2017