Lesbian plaintiff in work discrimination suit sticking to fight

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Story highlights

NEW: College denies it discriminated

Plaintiff hopes ruling "gives people pause when bullying someone over their sexual orientation"

Judge: "Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination"

CNN —  

Kimberly Hively, a lesbian math teacher who filed a bias lawsuit against her former employer in Indiana, didn’t know whether to believe the good news from her lawyer that a federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that the Civil Rights Act protected LGBT employees from workplace discrimination.

Hively, 50, said she has heard the word “no” more than “yes” since suing Ivy Tech Community College in 2014, arguing that the school violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 when it denied the adjunct instructor full-time employment based on her sexual orientation.

“Even though you hope for the best, you try not to get your expectations too high,” she said from her home in South Bend, Indiana. “And so this was a yes – and it was a big yes.”

The ruling paves the way for Hively’s lawsuit to move forward. A different appellate court ruling – in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals – had found that Title VII does not bar claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation, possibly setting the issue up for a Supreme Court review.

“I am kind of back where I started. I’m back in the same court being allowed to sue for the same reasons I brought up 3 ½ years ago,” Hively said.

’Back where I started’

Judge Diane Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote: “We conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination.”

Wood also wrote: “Any discomfort, disapproval, or job decision based on the fact that the complainant – woman or man – dresses differently, speaks differently, or dates or marries a same-sex partner, is a reaction purely and simply based on sex.”

“That means that it falls within Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination, if it affects employment in one of the specified ways,” Wood added.

Jeff Fanter, a senior vice president at the college, said in a statement: “Ivy Tech Community College rejects discrimination of all types; sexual orientation discrimination is specifically barred by our policies. Ivy Tech respects and appreciates the opinions rendered by the judges of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and does not intend to seek Supreme Court review. The college denies that it discriminated against the plaintiff on the basis of her sex or sexual orientation and will defend the plaintiff’s claims on the merits in the trial court.”

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’Sucking face’

Hively said she believes her troubles started in 2009 when she gave her girlfriend a quick goodbye kiss as she went into work as an adjunct instructor at the school. “It was just a kiss in the car like millions of other people do,” she said.

Shortly after, Hively said she received a call at home from the school administration in response to a complaint that she was “sucking face,” and she was reminded of her professionalism.

Working on a semester-to-semester basis, Hively said she applied for six to seven full-time teaching and administrative positions after earning a graduate degree in 2011. But she was denied. She said other employees who had been hired after were given full-time work. She also alleged other treatment such as reduced hours.

Hively said she was not asked back to the school in 2014 after working there for 14 years.

“It was at that point I knew that it was a bigger issue than even I had imagined it might be,” said Hively, who now teaches math at a South Bend high school.