US civil rights law protects LGBT workers from workplace bias - appeals court

April 4 (Reuters) - For the first time ever, a U.S. appeals court on Tuesday ruled that federal civilrights law protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace.

The ruling from a divided 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago represents a major legal victory for the gay rights movement.

It also allows a lawsuit to go forward in Indiana, where plaintiff Kimberly Hively said she lost her community college teaching job because she is lesbian.

"I have been saying all this time that what happened to me wasn't right and was illegal," Hively said in a statement released by the gay rights legal organization Lambda Legal, which represents her.

In its decision to reinstate Hively's 2014 lawsuit, which was thrown out at the local level in Indiana, the Court of Appeals ruled that protections against sex discrimination in Title VII of the Civil RightsAct of 1964 protects people from job discrimination based on their sexual orientation.

In so doing, the full appeals court overruled a decision by a smaller panel of its judges to uphold the district court's decision in the college's favor.

In its 8-3 decision, the court bucked decades of rulings that gay people are not protected by the milestone civil rights law, because they are not specifically mentioned in it.

"For many years, the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person's sexual orientation," Chief Judge Diane Wood wrote for the majority. "We conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination."

In her lawsuit, Hively said that Ivy Tech Community College in South Bend passed her over for a permanent position and refused to renew her contract as an adjunct professor after school administrators learned she is a lesbian.

The school has denied the claims, and a representative was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday. (Reporting by Joseph Ax, additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, California; editing by Sandra Maler, G Crosse)

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Love wins: LGBT celebrations at the White House
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Love wins: LGBT celebrations at the White House

Rainbow colored lights shine on the White House to celebrate todays US Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage June 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. Today the high court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage in all 50 states.

(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A woman uses a smartphone to take a photo of the White House lightened in the rainbow colors in Washington on June 26. 2015. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation.

(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Gay marriage supporters carried balloons that spelled the words 'Love Wins' in front of the White House tonight.The White House was lit in multi-colored lights tonight to honor the Supreme Court decision to allow gay marriage.

(Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

The White House stands illuminated in rainbow colored light at dusk in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Friday, June 26, 2015. The Supreme Court's ruling that gay marriage is legal nationwide is a 'victory for America,' U.S. President Barack Obama said today, declaring that justice had arrived for same-sex couples with 'a thunderbolt.'

(Drew Angerer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

People take photos of the White House lightened in the rainbow colors in Washington on June 26. 2015. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation.

(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

Gay activists hold signs in front of the White House lightened in the rainbow colors in Washington on June 26. 2015. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation.

(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

People hold balloon letters reading 'Love wins' in front of the White House lightened in the rainbow colors in Washington on June 26, 2015. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation.

(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

A gay couple hold each other as they look on at the White House lightened in the rainbow colors in Washington on June 26. 2015. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation.

(Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images)

A gay activist talks on the phone on front of the White House lightened in the rainbow colors in Washington on June 26. 2015. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation.

(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

People hold balloon letters reading 'Love wins' in front of the White House lightened in the rainbow colors in Washington on June 26, 2015. The US Supreme Court ruled Friday that gay marriage is a nationwide right, a landmark decision in one of the most keenly awaited announcements in decades and sparking scenes of jubilation.

(MLADEN ANTONOV/AFP/Getty Images)

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