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DOJ Claims Civil Rights Law Doesn't Apply to Gay Workers

Under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department argues the Civil Rights Act doesn’t cover sexual orientation. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
Under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department argues the Civil Rights Act doesn’t cover sexual orientation. (U.S. Customs and Border Protection)
July 28, 2017

NEW YORK – The U.S. Justice Department says federal civil rights law doesn't protect lesbians and gay men from workplace discrimination.

In 2010, Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor working on Long Island, was fired after revealing he was gay. He sued, charging a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Now, the Justice Department argues that Congress has not extended Title VII to include sexual orientation.

The brief was circulated Wednesday, a day that Greg Nevins, director of the Employment Fairness Project at Lambda Legal, says felt like a double-barreled assault on LGBT rights by the Trump administration.

"In the morning, the hideous attack on transgender service members who are living and dying for our country,” Nevins states. “And then in the evening, the attorney general's office came at us with the other barrel."

The federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed a brief supporting Zarda's claim, but the Justice Department says the EEOC was "not speaking for the United States."

According to Nevins, other courts have long held that the law's protections are not confined to narrow definitions of race, color, religion, sex and national origin.

"These things often have very different roots, very different social histories, but they're all prohibited to the same extent,” he stresses. “So, the fact that discrimination against one group is not rooted in believing them to be inferior doesn't mean it's not prohibited by Title VII."

Lambda Legal has successfully argued similar cases in Seattle, Chicago and Washington.

In April, a three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals denied Zarda's claim, but said he could have a new trial if the full Appeals Court agreed.

Nevins notes that the three judges were bound by precedent, but the full court is not.

"The mere fact that the court is willing to all get together to hear this shows that they are very, very interested in the argument that their prior precedent should be overruled," he points out.

Arguments in the case are scheduled for Sept. 26.



Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA