Circuit Court Decision Says Civil Rights Act Protects Gay Employees

Columns outside a courthouse.

In February 2018, a federal appeals court in the state of New York announced a decision in an important case that affects gay employees in the state of Florida and across the country. This case may be destined for the Supreme Court, where its impact will grow even larger once it has been decided.

About the Decision

The ruling in question involves a case that developed when the Department of Justice interceded in a skydiving instructor’s discrimination lawsuit. The skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, brought a case against his former employer when he was fired for making a comment related to his sexuality. When preparing to tandem skydive with a female who seemed nervous, Zarda informed the woman that he was “100 percent gay” in an attempt to ease her nerves. He may have thought some of her concerns related to how close she would be to Zarda in the tandem dive. Her boyfriend complained to the company, and Zarda was ultimately fired. He has since died in a skydiving accident, but his case continued after his death.

The Department of Justice attempted to argue that the 1964 Civil Rights Act does not cover discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sexual orientation, which would mean that the company had every right to terminate Zarda’s employment. However, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected this argument and ruled that the Civil Rights Act should apply to discrimination based upon sexual orientation.

About the 1964 Civil Rights Act

Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits any employer with at least 15 employees from discriminating against any employee on the basis of religion, national origin, color, race or sex. There has been much debate about whether this law should also be applied to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, making this a very sensitive issue. In the 1970s and 1980s, courts ruled that this law did not provide protection for LGBT employees. However, more recent cases have resulted in different decisions. In 2002, for example, a district court found that Title VII may provide protections for gay employees (Heller v. Columbia Edgewater Country Club). Also in 2002, Rene v. MGM Grand Hotel, Inc. found in favor of a gay employee who filed a claim related to workplace discrimination.

What Does this Decision Mean for Gay Employees in Florida?

For gay employees in Florida, this decision indicates that workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation will not be tolerated. Employees who believe they have suffered discrimination in the workplace because of their sexual orientation may be able to file claims against their employers on the basis of this ruling. If you are the victim of discrimination at work, talk to our experienced employment lawyers at Feldman Williams to find out if you have a case.

Will this LGBT Rights Case Go to the Supreme Court?

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is the second court to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. However, a third court, in Atlanta, reached a different conclusion. These differing court opinions may lead to an appeal to the Supreme Court. If this case does make it to that level, the ruling could set a significant precedent that will impact LGBT rights overall.

If you have been the target of discrimination in your workplace, call the attorneys at Feldman Williams, PLLC to learn more about your legal options.

Sources: