A federal appeals court has ruled that LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace is sex discrimination.
In a setback to the Trump administration, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, in New York, ruled 10-3 on Monday that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 also applies to sexual orientation.
“We see no principled basis for recognizing a violation of Title VII for associational discrimination on race but not sex,” the court ruled.
“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, making it impossible for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without taking sex into account.”
The court ruled in Zarda v. Altitude Express, in which Long Island skydiving instructor Donald Zarda sued his former employer. Zarda had assured a female client that he was gay, and Altitude Express fired him. He died in a jumping accident after the lawsuit was filed.
The Trump administration had filed an amicus brief that argued that the civil-rights law did not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.
GLAAD, the world’s largest LGBTQ media-advocacy organization, praised today’s ruling.
“Today’s court ruling is a decisive victory and a significant rejection of the Trump Administration’s ongoing campaign to strip rights and protections away from LGBTQ people in the workplace,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, GLAAD president and CEO.
Bloomberg Politics reports that at least two federal appeals courts have banned discrimination over sexual orientation, though a third has disagreed. That sets up a possible Supreme Court appeal.
The court’s link to Title VII is significant. There is no federal law barring employment discrimination, and in more than half of the 50 states, workers can be fired for being LGBTQ, according to Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. As Title VII interpretations have broadened, and the Supreme Court has barred sexual harassment and gender stereotyping.
Siding with the LGBTQ community in the Zarda case were 50 companies and organizations, including Microsoft, Google and Viacom. Lambda Legal’s Greg Nevins argued on Zarda’s behalf:
“No one should be fired, forced from their job or passed over for promotions because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual,” Nevins said.
“Under Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Justice Department has been wielded as a weapon of injustice, arguing that employers should be able to fire people simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” DNC Chair Tom Perez said in an emailed statement. “But despite the Trump administration’s best efforts, the LGBTQ community and their allies have prevailed in federal court today.”
“This is a major victory for anyone who believes in the promise of full equality for all Americans, and a massive blow to Republican leaders and lawmakers standing in the way of progress. Democrats are proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with our brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community, and we will always fight to end discrimination in all its forms.”