Court Battles

Federal appeals court rules in favor of gay rights


A federal appeals court in New York City has ruled against the Trump Justice Department in determining that the 1964 Civil Rights Act bans discriminating against gay people in the workplace. 

It’s the first time the 1964 civil rights law has been applied to anti-gay discrimination in the workplace. 

“We now hold that sexual orientation discrimination constitutes a form of discrimination ‘because of . . . sex,’ in violation of Title VII [of the Civil Rights Act of 1964],” the Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit said on Monday.


The case concerned a man, Donald Zarda, who claimed he was terminated from Altitude Express, Inc. because of his sexual orientation. Zarda’s lawyers argued that Title VII of the civil rights law applies to gay people.

The Justice Department argued the law prohibited discrimination based on gender, but not on sexual orientation. It also argued that had Congress wanted the law to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, it would have made that specific.

“There is a common-sense difference between sex discrimination and sexual orientation discrimination,” an attorney for the Department of Justice told the court last year. 

The majority opinion disagreed.

“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,” the majority said in the opinion led by Judge Robert Katzmann. “We can therefore conclude that sexual orientation is a function of sex and, by extension, sexual orientation discrimination is a subset of sex discrimination.”

Judge Gerard Lynch led the dissenting opinion, saying Congress did not intend to ban anti-gay discrimination when the legislation was drafted, but “was intended to secure the rights of women to equal protection in employment.”

“Put simply, the addition of ‘sex’ to a bill to prohibit employers from ‘discriminat[ing] against any individual with respect to his [or her] compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, . . . or national origin,’ … was intended to eliminate workplace inequalities that held women back from advancing in the economy, just as the original bill aimed to protect African-Americans and other racial, national, and religious minorities from similar discrimination,” Lynch wrote. 

Critics have said Attorney General Jeff Sessions has taken a hard-line stance on the issue of gay rights. 

Sessions filed a Supreme Court brief in support of a Colorado baker who said he shouldn’t be forced under the state’s anti-discrimination laws to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding.

Democratic National Committee Chair Tom Perez and DNC LGBTQ Caucus Chair Earl Fowlkes praised the court’s decision and ripped the administration in a statement on Monday.

“Under Donald Trump and Jeff Sessions, the U.S. Justice Department has been wielded as a weapon of injustice, arguing that employers should be able to fire people simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. But despite their best efforts, the LGBTQ community and their allies have prevailed in federal court today,” the statement said.

This story was updated at 1:50 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Jeff Sessions Tom Perez

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