Metro Weekly

Department of Justice: Civil Rights Act doesn’t protect LGBTQ people from discrimination

DOJ and EEOC take opposing views on whether LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination

The Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice Building. – Photo: Ed Brown, via Wikimedia.

The Trump Department of Justice has filed an amicus brief arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination.

The DOJ is seeking to intervene in a case out of the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where the executors of a deceased gay skydiver’s estate are pursuing a lawsuit against his former employer.

Donald Zarda filed the lawsuit in 2010, prior to his death, and alleges that the skydiving company unfairly terminated him because of his sexual orientation.

The 2nd Circuit previously ruled against Zarda’s estate, but his lawyers appealed that decision. The outcome will hinge on whether a majority agree that anti-gay discrimination is inherently a form of sex discrimination, or agree with the DOJ that “sex” only refers to a person’s assigned gender at birth.

Complicating the issue is the fact that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission supports Zarda’s lawyers’ interpretation of Title VII.

As the basis of its brief, the EEOC cited a previous ruling it made in 2015 finding that Title VII’s protections should apply to cases where LGBTQ people face discrimination.

Other lawsuits have been lodged in various courts across the country, primarily dealing with employment discrimination claims. And various circuit courts have given disparate rulings on how Title VII should be interpreted, potentially setting the stage for an eventual Supreme Court case to resolve the issue.

In one case, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Indiana adjunct professor Kim Hively’s rights were violated when she was refused promotions, and eventually fired, after her supervisors discovered she was a lesbian.

In another case, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lawsuit by Jameka Evans, a lesbian security guard, who alleges that her employer, a hospital, discriminated against her because of her failure to adhere to gender norms. Evans’ lawyers asked for a rehearing by the full 11th Circuit, which was rejected.

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

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