Metro Weekly

62 members of Congress say DOJ should defend LGBTQ worker protections

Letter argues sexual orientation discrimination cannot be understood without taking sex into account

David Cicilline, D-R.I. – Photo: U.S. Congress.

A bicameral group of 62 members of Congress has sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions criticizing the Department of Justice for its brief arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect LGBTQ people.

In the letter, which was circulated by U.S. Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) and Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), the congressmen and senators — all Democrats — say they believe the Justice Department’s stance is inconsistent with prior case law and that Title VII’s prohibitions on sex-based discrimination should also apply to instances where someone is discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.

“We believe this action is not only contrary to existing law, but violates our nation’s ideals of liberty and justice for all,” the letter reads.

The Justice Department had previously filed its amicus brief in order to encourage the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to adopt a narrow interpretation of Title VII in the case of Donald Zarda, a now-deceased skydiver who had filed a lawsuit prior to his death, alleging that his former employer, Altitude Express, discriminated against him and fired him because it objected to his sexual orientation.

The members of Congress also note that U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is tasked with enforcing Title VII and other nondiscrimination laws, has taken a position opposite that taken by the Justice Department. 

“[S]everal federal district courts and, most recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit have properly concluded that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination is understood to include discrimination based on sexual orientation,” they write in their letter. “This reflects a growing consensus that discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation cannot be understood without reference to sex. To argue the opposite defies any reasonable interpretation of what sex discrimination means.

“We urge the Department of Justice to reverse its position and to refrain from arguing against protections for LGBT people in any future Title VII cases dealing with the issue of whether sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com