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Companies Say Federal Law Already Bans Antigay Discrimination

Second Circuit Courthouse
The Second Circuit courthouse in New York City

A group of corporations and organizations urged a federal appeals court to interpret Title VII of the Civil Rights Act in this way.

Fifty major corporations and organizations, including Microsoft, Google, CBS, Viacom, Ben & Jerry's, Lyft, and Levi Strauss, are urging a federal appeals court to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The companies filed a friend-of-the-court brief Monday with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, based in New York City, Reuters reports.

The brief comes in the case Zarda v. Altitude Express, a skydiving company on Long Island. Donald Zarda had claimed the company fired him for telling a customer he was gay. He died in an accident after filing the lawsuit, but his estate is continuing to pursue it.

A three-judge panel of the Second Circuit dismissed the case in April, saying Title VII, which bans sex discrimination, does not cover sexual orientation discrimination. The full court agreed to reconsider the case after the Chicago-based Seventh Circuit became the first court at the federal appellate level to rule that Title VII does indeed cover sexual orientation. Some other courts have reached this conclusion regarding gender identity. President Obama's administration endorsed an interpretation of Title VII as banning both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination, as has the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Activists have tried for years, without success, to pass a federal law explicitly prohibiting anti-LGBT discrmination -- first the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, now the Equality Act.

"The 50 companies and organizations that join this brief share an interest in equality because they know that ending discrimination in the workplace is good for business, their employees, and the economy as a whole," the brief states. "The below businesses and organizations are committed to the belief that everyone should have the opportunity to earn a living, excel in their profession, and provide for their family free from fear of unequal treatment. Amici listed below support the notion that no one should be passed over for a job, paid less, terminated, or subject to harassment or any other form of discrimination based on nothing more than their sexual orientation. Creating workplaces in which employees are and feel safe from discrimination frees them to do their best work, with substantial benefits for their employers."

They note that antigay discrimination is widespread -- in studies, 25 percent of gay workers have reported experiencing it within the previous five years, and 42 percent reported having experienced it over the course of their working lives. Discrimination, the companies add, is more common in states that lack a law banning it -- a majority of U.S. states. Having to be in the closet on the job, they say, is bad for employees' health, and their job performance often suffers. The companies also say that an inclusive, welcoming workplace frequently translates to better financial results.

"Laws that allow discrimination erode our ability to foster vibrant, competitive workforces, which halts growth, creativity, and innovation," Anna Walker, Levi Strauss's senior director for policy and advocacy, told the Bloomberg news service.

The companies were brought together for the brief by Freedom for All Americans and are represented by the New York law firm of Quinn Emanuel Urquhart and Sullivan.

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