On Monday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that sexual orientation is protected under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination against employees based on sex.
The lawsuit was filed by a now-deceased sky diving instructor, Donald Zarda, who claimed he was fired after a customer complained that he was gay. The case was originally heard before a three-judge panel for the 2nd Circuit, which ruled in April that sexual orientation is not protected under Title VII. This most recent decision comes after the court agreed to hear the case again before all 13 of the circuit’s judges, otherwise known as the en-banc court.
“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,” read the appellate court ruling, “making it impossible for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without taking sex into account.”
The court’s ruling goes against a brief filed in this case by Donald Trump’s Justice Department, which argued that Title VII does not protect LGBT people from employment discrimination. This brief from the Justice Department came the same week that President Trump announced via Twitter that he wanted to reinstate a ban on transgender individuals serving “in any capacity” in the U.S. military. The courts have stepped in to block this administration initiative as well.
Earlier this month, the Department of Education said they would no longer investigate or take action to protect transgender students who are denied access to the restroom that corresponds with their gender identity, claiming they do not believe Title IX requires them to protect trans students from discrimination in publicly funded educational institutions. Title IX prohibits discrimination in education based on sex. Two federal appeals courts have already ruled that transgender students’ access to restrooms is protected under Title IX.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions has notoriously opposed protections for LGBT individuals throughout his career. During his confirmation hearing, it became a serious point of contention that as a Senator, Sessions had refused to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, in part because it would have extended protections to domestic violence victims regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.
In January, the Trump administration announced the creation of a new division at the Department of Health and Human Services that seeks to defend healthcare workers who choose to discriminate against LGBT patients on moral or religious grounds. Under these protections, health workers will be able to refuse to provide care for transgender patients, gay or lesbian patients, or people who have had abortions.
Media Resources: New York Times 2/26/18