On Wednesday evening, the Department of Justice filed a brief arguing that the Civil Rights Act should not protect lesbian, gay and bisexual employees from being fired because of their sexual orientation.
“The sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination. It does not, as has been settled for decades,” the Justice Department’s brief says.
“Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts,” the brief—filed under Attorney General Jeff Sessions—reads.
“After this morning’s appalling display of transphobia from President Trump, this is just the icing on the cake from his administration and – more specifically – Attorney General Jeff Sessions,” responded Lambda Legal, the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to the civil rights of LGBT people and everyone living with HIV.
The Human Rights Campaign issued the following statement in response to Trump’s Justice Department:
“Attacks against the LGBTQ community at all levels of government continue to pour in from the Trump-Pence Administration,” said Sarah Warbelow, HRC Legal Director. “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. 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.”
The federal law in question is Title VII, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.
The case before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Zarda v. Altitude Express, centers on a now deceased skydiver. In 2010, Zarda said he was fired because of his sexual orientation. In April, the Second Circuit decided that it would not accept the argument that discrimination on sexual orientation isn’t permitted under Title VII. However, Lambda Legal requested that the ruling be reconsidered, which is why the Justice Department planned to file its amicus brief.
“The power of the federal government to influence LGBTQ workplace rights can’t be underestimated,” said Sharita Gruberg, associate director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress.
“It is the Justice Department of the U.S. It’s not just anyone, so it’s definitely going to have a lot of weight because it is the position of the U.S. government, so it will be interesting to see how Second Circuit takes those arguments,” Gruberg said.
“On the day that will go down in history as Anti-LGBT Day, comes one more gratuitous and extraordinary attack on LGBT people’s civil rights,” said a statement from James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project. “The Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination.”
“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,” he said.