Victory! On February 26, the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit determined that under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, sexual orientation discrimination is discrimination “because of… sex.” The ruling in Zarda v. Altitude Express reverses existing precedent in the Second Circuit barring lesbian and gay people from bringing employment discrimination claims under Title VII when they are targeted at work for their sexual orientation.

“Today’s ruling from the Second Circuit, along with positive developments in other states and federal circuits, brings hope that existing civil rights laws can help to address the job discrimination plaguing so many LGBT people across the country. The majority and concurring opinions powerfully demonstrate that discrimination ‘because of sex’ is at play in considering a person’s sexual orientation. Taken together, this ruling is grounded in long standing case law about treating individuals differently from others because of sex, about sex stereotyping and about penalizing an individual’s associations, as in cases about workers having relationships with persons of a different race. It is also attentive to changes Congress has made to Title VII over the years, partly in response to Court decisions that attempted to limit its reach.” – GLAD Civil Rights Project Director Mary L. Bonauto

On May 25, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit granted en banc review in Zarda v. Altitude Express, a New York case in which the plaintiff brought a discrimination claim under Title VII, charging that he was fired for being gay.

Title VII is our federal law that protects against discrimination in employment. GLAD and others have long made the clear, common sense case that the law’s prohibition of discrimination “because of sex” includes protections against sexual orientation discrimination.  While precedent in most of our federal circuit courts has held the opposite, recent developments (including a landmark ruling from the Seventh Circuit earlier this year) show that more and more judges are finding it difficult to deny that sexual orientation discrimination is discrimination “because of sex.”

In granting review in Zarda, the Court specifically invited amicus briefs addressing the question of whether Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. GLAD has submitted a brief in partnership with NCLR and WilmerHale.