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Court rules that LGBT workers cannot be fired for their sexuality

Feb. 28, 2018
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A U.S. Appeals court in Manhattan ruled Monday that LGBTQ+ employees cannot be discriminated against based on sexual orientation. The court cited the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a landmark piece of legislation that outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and country of origin, among other things. 

Donald Zarda was a skydiving instructor who was fired from his job after a customer complained about him being gay. He had told her that he was “100 percent gay” after noticing that she seemed nervous while strapped to him during a lesson, according to The New York Times. While Zarda died in a jumping accident shorty after the suit was filed, his husband and sister continued the suit on behalf of his estate. 

The ruling goes directly against court papers filed by the Justice Department in July, which claimed that the Civil Rights Act does not protect against orientation-based discrimination.

In an amicus curiae briefing, the Justice Department said, “The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination. It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts.”

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.”

This is the second ruling that uses the Civil Rights Act to rule against discrimination based on sexual orientation.