A federal appeals court ruled for the first time Tuesday that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects LGBT employees from workplace discrimination, setting up a likely battle before the Supreme Court as gay rights advocates push to broaden the scope of the 53-year-old law.
The 8-to-3 decision by the full 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago comes just three weeks after a three-judge panel in Atlanta ruled the opposite, saying employers aren't prohibited from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation.
The 7th Circuit is considered relatively conservative and five of the eight judges in the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, making the finding all the more notable.
The case stems from a lawsuit by Indiana teacher Kimberly Hively alleging that the Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend didn't hire her full time because she is a lesbian.
In an opinion concurring with the majority, Judge Richard Posner wrote that changing norms call for a change in interpretation of the Civil Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on race, color, religion, national origin or sex.
"I don't see why firing a lesbian because she is in the subset of women who are lesbian should be thought any less a form of sex discrimination than firing a woman because she's a woman," wrote the judge, who was appointed by Republican Ronald Reagan.
The decision comes as President Donald Trump's administration has begun setting its own policies on LGBT rights. Late in January, the White House declared Trump would enforce an Obama administration order barring companies that do federal work from workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. But in February, it revoked guidance on transgender students' use of public school bathrooms, deferring to states.
Hively said after Tuesday's ruling that she agreed to bring the case because she felt she was being "bullied." She told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that the time has come "to stop punishing people for being gay, being lesbian, being transgender."
"This decision is game changer for lesbian and gay employees facing discrimination in the workplace and sends a clear message to employers: it is against the law to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation," said Greg Nevins, of Lambda Legal, which brought the case on behalf of Hively.
Ivy Tech said in a statement that its policies specifically bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and that it denies discriminating against Hively, a factual question separate from the 7th Circuit's finding regarding the law.
The federal health care law doesn't infringe on the religious freedom of faith-based nonprofit organizations that object to covering birth control in employee health plans, a federal appeals court in Denver ruled Tuesday.
The case involves a group of Colorado nuns and four Christian colleges in Oklahoma.
Religious groups are already exempt from covering contraceptives. But the plaintiffs argued that the exemption doesn't go far enough because they must sign away the coverage to another party, making them feel complicit in providing the contraceptives.
The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. The judges wrote that the law with the exemption does not burden the exercise of religion.
"Although we recognize and respect the sincerity of plaintiffs' beliefs and arguments, we conclude the accommodation scheme ... does not substantially burden their religious exercise," the three-judge panel wrote.
The same court ruled in 2013 that for-profit companies can join the exempted religious organizations and not provide the contraceptives. The U.S. Supreme Court later agreed with the 10th Circuit in the case brought by the Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain.
The Nevada Supreme Court is hosting an interactive Law Day Live forum linking courtrooms in Las Vegas, Carson City, and Winnemucca around an American Bar Association theme honoring the legacy of the nation's second president, John Adams.
Court spokesman Bill Gang said a Thursday videoconference hook-up will be streamed live as an educational tool for middle and high school students across the state.
Panels at each location will include judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and law enforcers — moderated by Supreme Court Justice Nancy Saitta.
Adams was the first U.S. lawyer-president, and was a staunch advocate of the rule of law — including the principle that accused persons are entitled to a legal defense.
Adams defended British soldiers in court on charges after the Boston Massacre of 1770.
A challenge by members of the Georga Bar to a mandatory electronic filing system is ripe for decision by a federal judge on a motion to dismiss by lawyers for defendant LexisNexis.
"The diversity jurisdiction provisions of the Class Action Fairness Act do not apply here, where the 'primary defendants' [include] government officials/entities against whom the court maybe be foreclosed from ordering relief," said Matthew Martin with Paul Hastings arguing for dismissal.
In the class action filed in June, Atlanta lawyer Steven Newton accuses LexisNexis Courtlink Inc., a division of Reed Elsevier, and Fulton County State and Superior Court officials and Fulton County of violating the Georgia Constitution in their effort to impose a mandatory, electronic filing system on the state's lawyers.
In his reply, Martin argued that public or private officials are entitled to absolute immunity in claims in which they acted in their official duties or at the directive of a facially-valid court order.
On a separate defense, Martin argued based on according to Georgia law, "payments of claims made through ignorance of the law or where all the facts are known and there is no misplaced confidence and no artifice, deception, or fraudulent practice used by the other party are deemed voluntary."
And on the due process claim, he argued, "Plaintiffs failed to rebut settled authority which establishes they have no property interest in fees voluntarily paid to [LexisNexis]. Moreover, plaintiffs ignore case authority which establishes that, where there is an alternative to incurring the charge, there can be no violation of the due process clause."
Plaintiff lawyer Newton has answered earlier similar arguments but has repeatedly said the case boils down to a separation of powers argument. He has said the attorneys representing the defendants have failed to address his primary reasons supporting the lawsuit: a state law states that court clerks should accept paper filings, limits the fees the clerk can add to those approved by general law and only authorizes magistrate court to accept optional e-filing.
Newton also points to a case involving a judge and clerk in Clinch County, located in South Georgia where the judge and clerk were indicted for charging unauthorized fees in criminal cases in Clinch County. Mandated by a judicial order, the fees were deposited in a secret bank account and used to finance courthouse expenditures.
In his reply, Martin said, "This is nothing more than a disingenuous attempt to equate public administrative orders regarding known court-filings to (alleged) back-room deals, (alleged) quid pro judicial rulings, and the (alleged) collection of secret fees deposited in secret bank accounts and secretly distributed to co-conspirators."
In addition to LexisNexis Courtlink Inc., the defendants are Mark Harper, chief clerk of the Fulton County State Court; A.L. Thompson, Fulton County State Court chief judge; Doris L. Downs, Fulton County Superior Court chief judge; Cathlene "Tina" Robinson, clerk of the Fulton County Superior Court and Fulton County, Georgia.
The matter is pending before U.S. District Court Judge William Duffey.