DOJ says civil rights law doesn't apply to gays and lesbians

The Justice Department weighed in Wednesday on an ongoing federal lawsuit with an amicus brief arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians.
By Mae Owen | Jul 31, 2017
The Justice Department weighed in Wednesday on an ongoing federal lawsuit with an amicus brief arguing that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit workplace discrimination against gays and lesbians. Lawyers working for Attorney General Jeff Sessions filed the brief with the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which was hearing the case of a gay plaintiff who was charging his former employer with discriminating against him.

"The Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination," the American Civil Liberties Union said regarding the Justice Department brief.

The Justice Department is not party to the case, nor did it receive any request from either party to intervene in it. Legal experts said that this makes the Justice Department's action in the case unusual, as the department typically does not get involved in private employment lawsuits.

The case kicked off in 2010, when skydiving instructor Donald Zarda sued his former employer in a federal court in New York. Zarda said that the company had fired him because he is gay and that this violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

In its brief, the Justice Department argued that the Civil Rights Act does not protect against discrimination over sexual orientation. It said that sexual orientation could not become a grounds for action unless Congress votes to modify the law and make it so.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that fights all forms of discrimination, spoke out in support of Zarda's case. The commission has argued for years that Title VII protects sexual orientation, an assertion that Sessions strongly opposes.

Zara's died in a base-jumping accident in 2014, but litigation on his case continues. If it wins, it could overturn two other cases from the early 2000s and give momentum to more legal challenges to anti-LGBT discrimination in years to come.

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