U.S. Seventh Circuit - The FindLaw 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Recent Civil Rights Law Decisions

Civil Rights Law Includes LGBT Job Bias

In a historic decision, a federal appeals court ruled that civil rights laws protect gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender employees from discrimination in the workplace.

It is the first time in the United States that a court has extended the 1964 Civil Rights Act to workers who identify with the LGBT community. Other courts traditionally have said that sexual orientation was not protected because it was not defined in the Civil Rights Act.

"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 en banc majority. "We conclude today that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is a form of sex discrimination."

A U.S. district court in Chicago recently denied a warrant that would have allowed the government to compel any individual at the searched location to unlock his iPhone, iPad, or other Apple electronic device that was protected Touch ID. The warrant application raises serious Fourth and Fifth Amendment concerns, the court explained, and fails to establish sufficient probable cause for the request that "is neither limited to a particular person nor a particular device."

Last summer, the U.S. government obtained a similar warrant to compel anyone in a building in California to unlock their phones with their fingerprints, but the recent ruling out of Illinois shows how such requests can meet resistance.

Acquitted Attorney Can't Sue Prosecutors, 7th Cir. Rules

No good deed goes unpunished, and you can't even sue for it.

That's a summary of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals' decision in Katz-Crank v. Haskett, which says an acquitted lawyer is barred from suing government officials who unsuccessfully prosecuted her. Here's what happened:

An attorney discovered her client was committing fraud and reported him to authorities. But they already knew about it and were investigating whether the attorney was involved. They charged her with aiding and abetting, and she was acquitted. She sued, and a judge dismissed. The court of appeals affirmed.

The Supreme Court ruled last year that gays and lesbians were entitled to equal marriage rights. But when it comes to the right to work free from discrimination, federal protections currently don't cover LGBTQ employees.

That could soon change in the Seventh Circuit, however, as the en banc court hears a case today that could result in employment discrimination protections being extended to gay and lesbian workers.

Indiana governor and Donald Trump running mate Mike Pence did well for himself in this week's vice presidential debate, if pundits and flash polls are to be believed. But his debate night triumph came on the heels of a stinging legal defeat, as the Seventh Circuit upheld an injunction against his Syrian refugee ban. Pence instituted the ban last year, after the terrorist attack in Paris, directing state agencies to stop funding the resettlement of Syrian refugees.

The Seventh Circuit wasn't having it. On Monday, the Seventh shut down Pence's ban, in a six-page tongue lashing that described the governor's logic as unfounded and based on "nightmare speculation." The ruling came shortly after last month's oral arguments during which Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner could barely contain his withering disdain for the state's position. Scratch that. He couldn't contain his distain at all, declaring at one point "Honestly. You are so out of it."

'Rats. This case is about rats.' And so begins Seventh Circuit Judge Frank Easterbrook's finest judicial opinion, his Marbury v. Madison, his Brown v. Board of Ed., his Fisher v. Lowe.

Well, maybe that's going a bit far. But for a case about rats, this one from Easterbrook is pretty good.

7th Cir. Blocks Ct. Injunction That Would Have Allowed Voting With No ID

The Seventh Circuit threw up roadblocks to halt an injunction that had been issued by Judge Lynn Adelman of Milwaukee that would have allowed persons in Wisconsin to cast their ballots despite having no photo ID. The circuit found that the lower court was "too lenient in loosening a state voter ID law that had already been declared discriminatory," according to the New York Times.

7th Circuit: Sexual Orientation Not Covered by Title VII

Lesbians and gays (and presumably bisexual, transgender, and queer persons) do not enjoy Title VII anti-discrimination under that federal statute, the Seventh Circuit has ruled. However, cultural realities demand that employers cannot simply dodge legal punishment scot free.

No Racial Slurs Allowed by Chicago School, Teacher Firing Upheld

In the ironically-named case of Brown v. Board of Ed., a teacher who was suspended from his position for using the N word in his classroom (for educational purposes) has no First Amendment claim, according to the recent Seventh Circuit ruling. Also, for related reasons, the court says the teacher suffered no violation of his due process. It's Brown v. Board of Education again, but it still has yet another layer of appeal left to go.

The ruling will upset many of those who have pointed out repeatedly the gray line that exists between proper use of language in a setting that has restricted Free Speech interests.

7th Circuit Affirms Combined Convictions Against Child Abuser

A divided Seventh Circuit affirmed both child abuse and felony gun use convictions against admitted abuser David Resnick in a split decision that implicates the admissibility of polygraph information -- or rather, evidence of the defendant's refusal to submit to a polygraph.

But although the affirmation may strike many as being the proper outcome, the Fifth Amendment implications the opinion raises should really give even the most casual reader pause.