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US federal court rules for gay rights in big discrimination case

US federal court rules for gay rights in big discrimination case

People participating in New York Pride

Gay rights in the United States just won a major court case in the face of the Donald Trump administration.

The Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in New York ruled against Trump’s Justice Department.

Last year, the Justice Department determined Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not ban LGBTI discrimination in the workplace. The act defines Title VII as sex discrimination.

However, the federal court ruled against this stance on Monday (26 February). In the opinion, Chief Judge Katzman wrote: ‘We now hold that sexual orientation discrimination constitutes a form of discrimination “because of . . . sex,” in violation of Title VII.’

The decision overturned the previous ruling of a lower court. With their ruling, the higher court ‘vacated’ this previous decision. They also ‘remanded’ all future proceedings be consistent with this new opinion.

All 13 judges heard the case, which is known as an en banc hearing. The only avenue for appeal going forward is the Supreme Court.

A long due victory

The case involved the late skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda. He sued his employer, Altitude Express, Inc., in 2010 for sexual orientation discrimination.

Though it is not the norm, the Justice Department became involved in the case.

However, in Monday’s decision, the court ruled sexual orientation and sex are inherently linked. Therefore, discrimination of the former falls under the purview of the latter, and Title VII.

‘A woman who is subject to an adverse employment action because she is attracted to women would have been treated differently if she had been a man who was attracted to women,’ Katzman wrote. ‘We can therefore conclude that sexual orientation is a function of sex and, by extension, sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination.’

The United States has no federal law protecting LGBTI people from discrimination in the workplace. Several states have their own laws, but this is a crucial step forward.

Sarah Warbelow, the Human Rights Campaign’s Legal Director, called the decision a ‘long due victory for equality’.

‘The Second Circuit’s decision today affirms what we have known all along: sexual orientation is a protected characteristic under Title VII. LGBTQ people are entitled to a safe workplace, and no person should be discriminated against because of who they love.’