The Civil Rights Act protects gay and lesbian employees from workplace discrimination, a federal appeals court decided Tuesday—three weeks after a three-judge panel in Atlanta ruled the opposite. In a ruling that is being called a "game changer" by LGBT rights groups, the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago decided 8 to 3 that the 1964 act covered the case of Kim Hively, a teacher in Indiana who says she was discriminated against for being a lesbian, the AP reports. "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 Judge Richard Posner for the majority.
Posner—a Ronald Reagan appointee—argued that a law like the 53-year-old Civil Rights Act should not be considered "frozen" on the day it is passed. The three dissenting judges argued that while Title VII of the act did not define discrimination based on sex, "sex" and "sexual orientation" did not mean the same thing in 1964 or today, the Chicago Tribune reports. Posner said the words of Title VII are interpreted differently today "not because we're smarter than the statute's framers and ratifiers but because we live in a different era, a different culture." Hively's former employers do not plan to appeal to the Supreme Court, though the issue is expected to end up there at some point anyway because of the Atlanta panel's conflicting ruling. (Read more Civil Rights Act stories.)