A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation violates the Civil Rights Act, in what was hailed as a landmark decision by gay rights advocates who have fought for years to expand workplace protections. 

The opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, sitting en banc, overturns an earlier ruling by a three-judge panel of the court just a year before. That decision upheld the dismissal of a discrimination lawsuit by an openly lesbian woman who had sued after she was denied faculty positions at the community college where she taught.

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