VICTORY: 2nd Circuit Rules Anti-Gay Employment Discrimination Violates Federal LawFebruary 26, 2018 • 10:28 am
NEW YORK – Today the en banc 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled in Zarda vs. Altitude Express that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, overturning the circuit’s 17-year-old exclusionary legal precedent and contributing to a national trend of court rulings in favor of LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.
The case concerned a man, Don Zarda, who was fired from his job as a skydiving instructor because of his sexual orientation. The 2nd Circuit has jurisdiction over New York, Connecticut, and Vermont.
“Today’s ruling is the latest victory affirming that employees should be evaluated only on their work ethic and job performance – not on who they are or who they love,” said Masen Davis, CEO of Freedom for All Americans. “Courts across America are increasingly in agreement that who a person loves has no impact on what they produce in the workplace, and no one should be singled out because of their sexual orientation. Freedom for All Americans is proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the attorney and legal organizations that made today’s win possible. Momentum is on our side, but we must continue doing the work of winning in both the courts and state legislatures. Our job isn’t done until the patchwork of different state laws is ended and all people are uniformly protected from discrimination, no matter what zip code they call home.”
Oral argument took place in September in front of the full en banc court — a rare phenomenon that has taken place only a handful of times in the last decade, and a strong indicator of the case’s significance. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the federal agency that oversees discrimination complaints) and the Department of Justice opposed each other in court in a rare split between two federal agencies over the same issue, proving the federal government a house divided on LGBTQ rights.
“Today’s victory is a wonderful step forward for the country as a growing number of Americans take a stand against anti-LGBTQ employment discrimination,” said Bill Moore, loved one of the plaintiff and co-executor of his estate. “I wish Don were here to see how he and his case have advanced the movement for LGBTQ equality. I know that he would be humbled to know that bringing his story forward has helped improve the lives of countless Americans who face discrimination at work because of their sexual orientation.”
Last April, the en banc 7th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a groundbreaking decision in a case brought forth by Lambda Legal in favor of Kimberly Hively, who was fired from her job as a teacher because she is a lesbian; and held that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is illegal under Title VII, which prohibits discrimination in employment based on sex — the first time a federal appellate court has ever reached this conclusion. Meanwhile, the 11th Circuit ruled the opposite way in a 2-1 decision in Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, which concerned a Savannah security guard who was harassed at work and forced from her job because of her sexual orientation.
“When Don passed away before being able to see a resolution in his legal case, I knew that the best way I could honor my brother was by continuing the case,” said Melissa Zarda, sister of the plaintiff and co-executor of his estate. “Today my family and I feel vindicated by this historic, landmark ruling from the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Don valued fairness and justice above all else. To right a wrong would have meant the world to him, and by bringing his case forward, his legacy will be to right countless wrongs endured by Americans who face employment discrimination based on their sexual orientation.”
Freedom for All Americans provided ongoing communications and digital support to the private attorney leading the case. In addition, FFAA helped recruit a record 50 businesses representing more than 370,000 employees last year who filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the plaintiff, marking the first time that businesses have explicitly taken the legal position that discrimination in employment based on sexual orientation is illegal under Title VII.
Don Zarda passed away in 2015, but Bill and Melissa, the co-executors of his estate, continued the lawsuit on his behalf. To request an interview with loved ones of the plaintiff, contact adallara@
Freedom for All Americans is the bipartisan campaign to secure full nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people nationwide. Our work brings together Republicans and Democrats, businesses large and small, people of faith, and allies from all walks of life to make the case for comprehensive nondiscrimination protections that ensure everyone is treated fairly and equally.