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Federal court rules Civil Rights Act protects LGBT workers

On Behalf of | Mar 2, 2018 | Blog

Members of California’s LGBT community are fortunate to live in a state that legally protects them from workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. Sadly, not every state recognizes that their lesbian, gay and transgender workforces routinely face discrimination in hiring, firing, compensation and promotions.

Whether federal law and regulations prohibit anti-LGBT discrimination in the workplace is an open question, but a major ruling by the U.S. Second District Court of Appeals could lead to an answer once and for all.

Background on the case

As The New York Times reports, the appeals court judges ruled on Feb. 26 in favor of a skydiving instructor who was fired after telling a female client that he is “100 percent gay.” It appears the instructor’s employer, Altitude Express, was not aware of his sexual orientation until the client’s boyfriend told management about the comment. Altitude Express fired him soon after.

The instructor sued for wrongful termination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. He later died, but his estate continued the litigation.

The Civil Rights Act

The case hinged largely on a passage in the Civil Rights Act that bans workplace prejudice based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” Specifically, does the reference to sex discrimination include sexual orientation?

By a 10-3 vote, the federal appeals court in New York ruled that it did. While Congress may not have considered sexual orientation discrimination when it passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964, since then “the legal framework for evaluating Title VII claims has evolved substantially,” the majority opinion notes. In particular, courts have interpreted Title VII to outlaw discrimination based on “sex stereotypes,” which the Second District Court concluded includes sexual orientation.

“Sexual orientation is defined by one’s sex in relation to the sex of those to whom one is attracted, making it impossible for an employer to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation without taking sex into account,” the court wrote.

This is similar to another appeals court’s decision, but goes against a ruling from the appeals court in Atlanta. Because of this disagreement, the case could end up before the U.S. Supreme Court. Altitude Express has yet to decide how to proceed.

Employment discrimination law is always evolving, both here in California and nationwide. If you have suffered financially and emotionally due to workplace prejudice, you should speak with an experienced employment lawyer to learn your options.