Justice Department suggests that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation is already illegal

Yesterday, the Justice Department responded to a lawsuit filed by David Baldwin, who is claiming that he was fired from his post in the Federal Aviation Administration due to his sexual orientation, and that being fired for that reason is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The Department argued in favor of the FAA. As Buzzfeed News reported yesterday, this is great news for the LGBT community.

Jobs via Shutterstock

Jobs via Shutterstock

It’s great news because the Justice Department chose to argue the case instead of moving to dismiss it outright, as cases claiming employment discrimination based on sexual orientation have been in the past. By arguing the merits of the case, rather than simply claiming that the plaintiff has no standing because they are a gay man and not a straight woman, the Justice Department is accepting the premise that the Civil Rights Act’s protections against sex discrimination extend to cover sexual orientation (it already holds that the Act protects employees based on gender identity). Their defense of the FAA only argues that this particular case doesn’t constitute discrimination — not that, in general, LGBT people don’t have legal protections in the workplace. As Tico Almeida, the civil rights attorney who founded Freedom to Work, told Buzzfeed:

The Justice Department made the correct call by defending this case on the facts rather than making the outdated and conservative legal argument that the Civil Rights Act does not protect gays and lesbians from workplace discrimination.

In other words, even if the Justice Department doesn’t agree with Baldwin’s claims, they do agree that he has the right to make them. That’s huge.

Even as the Justice Department defends the FAA in Baldwin’s lawsuit, their actions actions line up with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which had previously issued a decision ruling in Baldwin’s favor, holding that employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in the federal government was already illegal.

Momentum is building for the rest of the court system to agree.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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  • 2patricius2

    Given the current crop of Republicant candidates for president, it is clear that the election of any one of them would bring a quick end to the Justice Department’s argument that the Civil Rights Act includes sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Despite the distinction, Mr. Baldwin is going to have to have some very incriminating evidence that he was in fact fired due to his sexual orientation. Making a claim is one thing, but proving it is where it often becomes difficult.

    In the end, he may still lose his case (unless he has hard evidence, in such cases they usually settle out of court), but agree, at least it opens the door to using the Civil Rights Act as a basis. As to whether that’s useable in most State courts I believe is still undecided…

  • dcinsider

    Agree. Very important distinction and worth noting. Very interesting.

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