The U.S. Department of Justice is supporting a New York skydiving company, Altitude Express Inc, in a lawsuit brought by former instructor Donald Zarda, who accused the company of firing him after he told a customer he was gay and she complained. Zarda died in a BASE-jumping accident after filing the lawsuit, and his estate took over the case.
Judges on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals focused their questions on whether discrimination against gay workers is a form of unlawful sex bias under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That law bans discrimination based on workers’ sex, race, religion and other traits.
Justice Department lawyer Hashim Mooppan told the court that Congress never intended for that law to protect gay workers against bias. And in recent years, he said, lawmakers have repeatedly declined to pass bills that would prohibit employment discrimination against gay workers.
During the Obama administration, the Justice Department had not weighed in on the case. But the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which appeared at Tuesday’s hearing on behalf of Zarda’s estate, has been arguing for five years that bias against gay workers violates the law. The EEOC is an independent federal agency that enforces Title VII.