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Judge dismisses Cicero discrimination suit
by Matt Simonette
2016-08-05

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A federal judge, on Aug. 1, ruled that a painter in a Cicero high school could not bring Title VII discrimination charges against school officials, though the judge's decision described the painter's workplace treatment—because he was perceived by co-workers as gay—as "appalling."

The case, which was originally reported Aug. 2 by the Cook County Record, highlighted the lack of available recourse in the federal courts for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, as did a similar lawsuit in an appellate court the previous week.

Lubomir Matavka, who worked at Morton East High School from 2010-2012, alleged that he was subjected to repeated incidents of harassment there, so he filed a lawsuit in the Northern District of Illinois claiming Title VII employment discrimination against Morton High School District 201 late last year.

Title VII is the category of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 extending protections against employment discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex and religion. Matavka's lawyers were arguing for a more robust interpretation of sex-discrimination that would extend to LGBT individuals; that definition has been utilized recently by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, for example.

But Judge Milton I. Shadur ruled that such an application was not binding by federal law in this case. Employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is still not a recognized protected category in the eyes of the federal government.

A status hearing on Matavka's case coincidently fell July 29, the day after the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's dismissal of a suit by Kimberly Hively, an Indiana college professor, who claimed that her college, Ivy Tech Community College, would not promote her because she is a lesbian. Shadur was bound to the appellate court's decision and lamented the current deficiencies in the law in his own decision.

Shadur wrote that, "…[The] EEOC has announced its reconsideration of the proper reading of the word 'sex' in Title VII ( a change of position that is not of course binding on the federal judiciary ). But it is not alone in its desire to conform the law to the changes in public perception that have created judicial turmoil because Congress has been unresponsive to the widespread sense that public opinion no longer subscribes to the constricted mindset reflected in the [dictum from Ulane v. Eastern Airlines, Inc., which earlier established that LGBTs were not subject to the protections]."

The Equality Act, introduced in July 2015, would theoretically rectify the issue if passed by Congress and signed into law by the president. It would extend all protections from the 1964 Civil Rights Act to members of the LGBT community.

Cook County Record's article is at bit.ly/2ar2dyj.


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