Is court decision a momentum shift re workplace bias?

Next stop, U.S. Supreme Court?

Some close watchers of a recent federal appellate ruling envision precisely that concerning a case focused upon gay right rights at the workplace.

That case concluded last week in New York, where the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit (with territory comprising numerous states, including Connecticut) made a strong ruling in a 10-3 decision. The tribunal held that the enumerated categories in Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that are protected against workplace discrimination include sexual orientation.

That has not always been crystal clear. Indeed, a lack of unanimity still exists among both federal courts and government agencies concerning the question.

The 2nd Circuit’s opinion is joined by another of the country’s 13 courts of appeal that has weighed in on the matter, for example, but has been rejected by a third circuit. And while the U.S. Department of Justice disputes that Title VII offers worksite protection against discrimination to employees charging bias based on their sexual orientation, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission forcefully contends that it does. The American Civil Liberties Union and myriad advocacy groups strongly second the EEOC’s position.

Title VII outlaws bias on the basis of “sex.” The DOJ argues that sexual orientation cannot reasonably be inferred from that sparse reference alone. The court refuted that view last week, citing the evolution of “the legal framework for evaluating Title VII claims.” It determined that the law must be interpreted to include sexual orientation.

Given the judicial split on the matter, gay rights at the workplace could well be an issue that is inevitably scheduled for oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court.