DOJ argues civil-rights law does not protect sexual-orientation discrimination

DOJ argues civil-rights law does not protect sexual-orientation discrimination

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Hours after President Donald Trump unleashed a tweetstorm announcing a ban on transgender people from serving in the military “in any capacity,” his administration declared a second rollback on LGBT rights. The Department of Justice argued Wednesday that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not provide protections based on sexual orientation.

The law currently protects individuals based on “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.” In the brief, DOJ lawyers contended this law did not include lesbian or gay people.

"The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual-orientation discrimination,” the DOJ said in the brief. “It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII's scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts."

The department filed the brief in the case of Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who sued his former employer, Altitude Express. Zarda said his employer fired him after he disclosed his sexual orientation to a customer and his case questioned whether discrimination based on sexual orientation is prohibited under Title VII.

Zarda died in a skydiving accident before the case went to trial but executors of his estate continued the lawsuit on his behalf.

“In one fell swoop, Trump’s DOJ has provided a roadmap for dismantling years of federal protections and declared that lesbian, gay and bisexual people may no longer be protected by landmark civil-rights laws such as the Fair Housing Act, Title IX or Title VII,” Human Rights Campaign Legal Director Sarah Warbelow said in a statement. “For over a decade, courts have determined that discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ status is unlawful discrimination under federal law. Today’s filing is a shameful retrenchment of an outmoded interpretation that forfeits faithful interpretation of current law to achieve a politically-driven and legally specious result.”

James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's LGBT & HIV Project said Wednesday “will go down in history as Anti-LGBT Day” and the administration is “working to expose people to discrimination.”

However, Esseks noted the final word on Title VII will come from the judiciary branch, not Trump officials.

“Fortunately, courts will decide whether the Civil Rights Act protects LGBT people, not an Attorney General and a White House that are hell-bent on playing politics with people's lives,” Esseks said in a statement. “We are confident that the courts will side with equality and the people.”

*This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

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