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Federal civil rights law protects gay workers, U.S. appeals court rules

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Title VII, which bans sex bias in the workplace, prohibits discrimination against gay employees.

A U.S. appeals court in Manhattan on Monday ruled that a federal law banning sex bias in the workplace also prohibits discrimination against gay employees, becoming only the second court to do so.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals overruled prior decisions and said that a worker’s sex is necessarily a factor in discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The ruling went against a court brief filed by the Trump administration in 2017 that said Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was not intended to provide protections to gay workers.

The 2nd Circuit revived a lawsuit by the estate of Donald Zarda, a former skydiving instructor who said he was fired after he told a customer he was gay and she complained. Zarda’s estate was backed in the appeal by dozens of large companies, including Alphabet Inc’s Google, Microsoft Corp, CBS Corp and Viacom Inc.

Zarda died in a BASE-jumping accident after the lawsuit was filed.

Zarda’s former employer, Altitude Express Inc, and companies that have faced similar lawsuits have argued that when Congress adopted Title VII more than 50 years ago, it did not consider whether the law’s ban on sex bias included discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender groups and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission have increasingly argued that sexual orientation is a function of a person’s gender.

The 2nd Circuit agreed on Monday in its 10-3 decision.

Last April, the Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit became the first court to find that Title VII bans gay bias in the workplace.

The U.S. Supreme Court in December declined to take up a different case out of Georgia that posed the same question.