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Gay Workers Protected Under Civil Rights Act According to New Court Ruling

In a major victory for gay rights advocates, a federal appeals court in New York ruled that civil rights law prevents employers from discriminating against their workers based on their sexual orientation.

The decision has been seen as a huge setback for the Trump Administration, which unexpectedly got the Justice Department involved in a discrimination lawsuit filed by a sky-diving instructor. The Justice Department contended that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not explicitly cover sexual-orientation discrimination in the workplace. The entity’s stance, put it at odds with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

However, on February 26, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the arguments made by the Justice Department. The court ruled that the Civil Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin, should also include a person’s sexual orientation.

Although the ruling has been hailed as victory by gay rights groups, it can potentially lead to a scenario where the rights of gay workers will be decided by the Supreme Court, which includes Trump’s recent nominee, Justice Neil M. Gorsuch.

The company that lost the case, Altitude Express, has yet to decide if it will ask the Supreme Court to review the decision.

Altitude Express’s fired a Long Island sky-diving instructor, Donald Zarda, after he told a customer he was “100 percent gay.” Zarda filed a lawsuit which claimed that his firing was a violation of Title VII. Two courts in New York initially ruled against Mr. Zarda.

Although Zrada died in a sky-diving accident in 2014, his appeal continued through the courts. As his appeal continued, the legal landscape began to shift. Under the Obama administration, the E.E.O.C. ruled on a different matter and found that “sexual orientation is inherently a ‘sex-based consideration’” and should be protected by the law.

On the same day that President Trump announced that transgendered people should be banned from military service, Justice Department lawyers filed a friend of the court brief in Zarda’s case. In the brief, the Justice Department said that the E.E.O.C. was “not speaking for the United States.” Their position was ultimately rejected with the Second Circuit’s ruling.

In their decision, Chief Judge Robert A. Katzmann wrote, “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.”

Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York State attorney general who filed an amicus brief in the case, said, “No one should face discrimination because of their sexual orientation — and I am pleased that the Second Circuit has sent a clear statement in support of equal justice today.”

Have you faced discrimination from your employer because of your sexual orientation? Contact our Connecticut employment discrimination lawyers to discuss your case today.