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Court: Civil Rights Law protects claims of employment discrimination based on sexual orientation

A federal appeals court in New York ruled on Monday that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law tha...

Posted: Feb 27, 2018 8:38 AM
Updated: Feb 27, 2018 8:39 AM

A federal appeals court in New York ruled on Monday that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that bans employment discrimination because of sex, also protects claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation.

"Sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination because sexual orientation is defined by one's sex in relation to the sex of those to whom one is attracted," a 10-3 opinion issued by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals stated.

The ruling is a loss for the Trump administration, which had argued that Congress did not mean Title VII to extend to claims of sexual orientation.

The court, based in New York, becomes the second appeals court to rule that the civil rights law covers discrimination based on sexual orientation. Last year, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a similar ruling.

The ruling means that employees in those two circuits can use existing civil rights law to sue for discrimination based on sexual orientation.

It is a victory for the estate of Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who died before trial but his estate had continued his suit.

"Now two courts have ruled emphatically that we are right," said Gregory Nevins of Lambda Legal, who filed briefs in support of Zarda. "This is a big win, and we hope for a national ruling in the future."

The case stems from 2010, when Zarda was an Altitude Express instructor for Rosanna Orellana. Zarda's role was to be tied to the back of Orellana, deploy the parachute and supervise the jump. According to court papers, at some point Zarda informed Orellana that he was gay. After the jump, Orellana's boyfriend learned that Zarda had disclosed his sexual orientation and called Altitude Express with various complaints about Zarda's behavior. Zarda was fired.

The company contended that Zarda was fired for failing to provide an enjoyable experience to customers. Zarda asserted that his actions were appropriate and he was fired because of his sexuality. He filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sex discrimination in violation of Title VII.

The case was unusual, since the EEOC supported Zarda, while the Justice Department was on the other side.

"The EEOC is not speaking for the United States," Justice Department lawyers said in their brief.

After the ruling, Justice spokesman Devin O'Malley issued a statement saying the department is "committed to protecting the civil and constitutional rights of all individuals" but that it is dedicated "to the fundamental principle that the courts cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided."

Saul D. Zabell, an attorney for Altitude Express, said he has not decided whether to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

He said that while his clients recognize that sexual orientation needs to be protected under the law, a jury in the case found that Zarda had not been terminated because of his sexual orientation but instead it was based on his inappropriate behavior.

Coming more than two years after the Supreme Court cleared the way for same-sex marriage, government lawyers wrote in briefs that "to be sure," there have been "notable changes in societal and cultural attitudes about such discrimination," but they insisted that Congress has "consistently" declined to amend Title VII in light of those changes.

They said that even changes in societal attitudes "do not present courts with a license to rewrite a constitutionally valid statutory text under the banner of speculation about what Congress might have done to implement a clear statute's policy objectives."

Lawyer Gregory Antollino and the LGBT rights group Lambda Legal argued in support of Zarda's estate.

"If you discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, you necessarily take into account the sex of the employee," said Antollino. "You can't take the 'sex' out of 'sexual orientation.' "

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 501652

Reported Deaths: 10024
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34353540
DeSoto32162408
Hinds31977631
Jackson24508383
Rankin22015390
Lee15596235
Madison14597280
Jones13867243
Forrest13461252
Lauderdale11998317
Lowndes11065188
Lamar10522136
Pearl River9547237
Lafayette8557140
Hancock7740127
Washington7443160
Oktibbeha7147133
Monroe6787178
Warren6706176
Pontotoc6677104
Neshoba6642206
Panola6542131
Marshall6476135
Bolivar6323150
Union605794
Pike5824152
Alcorn5676102
Lincoln5439135
George497479
Scott473098
Tippah470381
Prentiss469182
Leflore4663144
Itawamba4640105
Adams4592119
Tate4592111
Copiah448792
Simpson4448116
Yazoo444887
Wayne440072
Covington429094
Sunflower4240105
Marion4232108
Coahoma4168107
Leake408688
Newton381779
Grenada3711108
Stone360664
Tishomingo360092
Attala331789
Jasper330165
Winston314691
Clay308977
Chickasaw301067
Clarke292594
Calhoun279447
Holmes267987
Smith264150
Yalobusha234547
Tallahatchie228251
Greene219449
Walthall218764
Lawrence213140
Perry205956
Amite205256
Webster203046
Noxubee186840
Montgomery179657
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169338
Tunica160039
Benton149239
Kemper141941
Choctaw133326
Claiborne132837
Humphreys129638
Franklin120328
Quitman106528
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson94734
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 820312

Reported Deaths: 15407
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1148731924
Mobile726221339
Madison52362697
Shelby37640350
Baldwin37266552
Tuscaloosa35120612
Montgomery34123740
Lee23540246
Calhoun22236488
Morgan20958378
Etowah19838500
Marshall18381304
Houston17394412
St. Clair16078339
Cullman15468293
Limestone15354199
Elmore15271286
Lauderdale14323295
Talladega13851283
DeKalb12664261
Walker11221370
Blount10207176
Autauga10048148
Jackson9877184
Coffee9211191
Dale8904185
Colbert8877201
Tallapoosa7093198
Escambia6778134
Covington6715183
Chilton6648162
Russell637559
Franklin5969105
Chambers5612142
Marion5010127
Dallas4979200
Pike4796106
Clarke475884
Geneva4575127
Winston4522103
Lawrence4327117
Bibb425386
Barbour357876
Marengo338390
Monroe331664
Randolph329864
Butler326796
Pickens316584
Henry312866
Hale311688
Cherokee302960
Fayette294180
Washington251651
Cleburne247760
Crenshaw245375
Clay243368
Macon234863
Lamar224847
Conecuh186353
Coosa180340
Lowndes175464
Wilcox168939
Bullock151744
Perry138940
Sumter133238
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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