Federal court rules Civil Rights Act covers sexual orientation

Court Justice

A federal appeals court today handed down a victory for LGBT people today, affirming that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal under federal law.

The full Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued the ruling on the scope of the Civil Rights Act in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc. The case involved a gay male skydiver who said he was discriminated against after he disclosed that he was gay. The case made headlines last summer when the Justice Department filed an amicus brief in the matter before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing that Title VII does not cover workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.

“Today, the Second Circuit joins the Seventh Circuit in ruling that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination,” said attorney Sam Schwartz-Fenwick, who is a part of a law firm LGBT Affinity Group.

“The Eleventh Circuit and the current Trump administration continue to take the opposite view [of the decision], and other appellate courts have yet to weigh in,” said Schwartz-Fenwick. “In conducting business during this period of legal uncertainty, employers must be aware that gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals may be protected under federal law in addition to relevant state or local laws, and that any allegations concerning sexual orientation discrimination require the same analysis, investigation and response as a traditional sex discrimination complaint.”

Vanita Gupta is President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Vanita Gupta is President of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said, “We applaud this ruling by the Second Circuit, which follows a similar decision by the Seventh Circuit. These federal judges have rightly recognized that discrimination against workers on the basis of their sexual orientation violates a key civil rights law of this country. It is also a welcome rebuke of the Trump administration’s view that it’s somehow legal to discriminate against LGBT workers. All workers, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, should be protected from discrimination.”

The U.S. Department of Justice had weighed in on the side of the employer. The Trump administration argued sexual orientation is not protected under Title VII’s definition of sex. The Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union filed friend-of-the-court brief papers along with other organization opposing the Justice Department.

Ria Tabacco Mar, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said, “Today’s decision is a victory for lesbian, gay, and bisexual workers across the country. There have now been two federal appeals courts to recognize what we’ve always known — that discrimination based on sexual orientation is in fact discrimination, and that there is no room for it in the workplace. This decision is also a repudiation of the Trump administration’s Justice Department, which has insisted that LGBT discrimination is acceptable under federal law.”

The ACLU release is available online.