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Justice Department Says Discrimination Laws Don’t Apply to Gays
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Jeff Sessions

Summary: The Department of Justice claims that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act does not include sexual orientation. 

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said that transgender soldiers were not welcome in the armed forces, and on the same day, the Department of Justice doubled down. The department, which is led by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, argued in a recent court filing that LGBTQ employees are not protected by federal discrimination laws.

  
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According to The New York Times, the Department of Justice filed court documents on Wednesday stating that federal discrimination laws do not protect employees based on their sexual orientation. This is a stance that is opposite of the one taken by the administration under President Barack Obama.

The DOJ’s filing was a part of a New York discrimination case between a worker and his boss over gay rights issues. The New York Times said that it was “uncommon” for top officials to meddle directly in a private dispute, but that this case could prove important for civil rights issues.

The case involved Donald Zarda, a sky diving instructor, who was fired by his employer Altitude Express in 2010. Before taking a female client on a dive, Zarda told her that he was gay in order to make her feel more comfortable with him being so tightly strapped onto her during the jump. Instead of assuaging her fears, she told her husband about the remark, and he complained to Altitude Express, which promptly fired Zarda.

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Zarda sued Altitude Express for wrongful termination and discrimination, citing Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The law bans workplace discrimination based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” and Zarda said that he was fired for being gay.

But Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in his brief that the law does not protect against sexual orientation. In the DOJ Wednesday filing, the department said that since 1974 Congress has declined to include sexual orientation in Title VII, even if society had become more open to those living non-heterosexual lifestyles.



The Wednesday filing also said that the federal government had a “substantial and unique interest” in the proper interpretation of Title VII, which had been interpreted differently in 2015 under the Obama administration.

That year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) voted 3-2 that discrimination based on sexual preference or identity was illegal. The ruling was reviewed by the Department of Justice but did not formally bind courts, which tended to look to federal rulings for interpretation clues anyway.

The Zarda case was first heard in a Long Island Court, where a judge ruled in favor of his employer. Despite the EEOC ruling, the court said that civil rights laws did not include sexual orientation in the definition of “sex.” The case moved to the Second Circuit in New York, and in April, that court upheld the first court’s decision.

The conservative actions of Trump and Sessions have spurned outrage from liberal critics, who said that the government is actively trying to attack the civil rights of the LGBTQ community.

“The Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination,” James Eseeks of the American Civil Liberties Union said.

Devin O’Malley, a spokesperson for the DOJ, said that the department was consistent with the holdings of multiple courts and that the filing “reaffirms the department’s fundamental belief that the courts cannot expand the law beyond what Congress has provided.”

Source: The New York Times

What do you think of the Department of Justice’s Wednesday filing? Let us know in the comments below.



 

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