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Landmark Decision Puts the U.S. One Ruling Closer to LGBT Equality

A gavel in front of an LGBT rainbow flag.

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It seems like an inconsequential court case. In 2010, a skydiving instructor in New York lost his job and sued his employer over discrimination. Donald Zarda was fired, he contends, only days after mentioning his sexuality to his employer. The lawsuit is based on that being wrong by rule of law.

To a compassionate person, it seems obvious—it’s immoral to fire someone for their sexuality. But most states within the U.S. do not protect employment rights for sexuality or gender identity.

A 2017 verdict in the 11th Circuit, Atlanta, ruled that federal discrimination protections, also called Title VII, do not include sexual orientation. So Zarda’s lawyers tried a different track. Or rather, three.

Firing people for their sex is explicitly illegal. Zarda would not have been fired for being attracted to men if he were another gender. So he was fired for his sex.

A previous Supreme Court ruling has also said that people can’t be fired for failing to live up to gender expectations. Zarda was fired for failing to adhere to the expectation of men being attracted to women, his counsel argued.

Lastly, many courts have ruled that a person can’t be fired for associating with people of a certain race. The counsel argued that the same holds for gender under Title VII, and Zarda couldn’t be fired for associating with another man, regardless of the private nature of that association.

The logic seems complicated and a bit of a stretch at times, but on Monday, February 26th, the New York Appeals Court ruled 10-3 in Zarda’s favor. That ruling means not only that Zarda’s employer was in the wrong, but it is also a statement that federal civil right laws, as they are now, already do ban employers from discriminating against sexualities. Now, two appeals courts have ruled in favor of Title VII protections for LGBT people, making it likely that the issue will come before the Supreme Court of the United States in the near future.

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