Pallone Urges DOJ to Reverse Position on Zarda LGBT Worker Protection Case

Frank Pallone

Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-6) and Congressman David N. Cicilline (RI-01) this week a bicameral letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions regarding the Department of Justice’s decision to file an amicus brief in the Zarda v. Altitude Express case.

Donald Zarda, a skydiver, filed a lawsuit in September 2010 against his former employer, Altitude Express, Inc, alleging that the company violated the Civil Rights Act by discriminating against him because of his sexual orientation. On Wednesday, July 26, the Justice Department filed an amicus brief arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect LGBT individuals, counter to court precedent and the interpretation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the federal entity responsible for ensuring equality in the workplace. The brief is also inconsistent with a significant body of casel aw established by the First, Sixth, Ninth, and eleventh circuit courts of appeal. 

Pallone, Cicilline, and over 60 Congressional colleagues urged the Department of Justice to reverse its position in the Zarda case and uphold the rights of LGBT Americans, including the following Members of the House of Representatives:  

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, Rep. Alan Lowenthal, Rep. Donald Norcross, Rep. William R. Keating, Reo. Diana DeGette, Rep. Derek Kilmer, Rep. Barbara Lee, Rep. Peter Welch, Rep. Sandy Levin, Rep. Ro Khanna, Rep. Scott Peters, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, Rep. Kathleen Rice, Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, Rep. Pete Aguilar, Rep. Bill Foster, Rep. Daniel T. Kildee, Rep. Juan Vargas, Rep. Joe Crowley, Rep. Yvette D. Clarke, Rep. Hank Johnson, Rep. Bill Pascrell, Jr., Rep. Jacky Rosen, Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Rep. Steve Cohen, Rep. Betty McCollum, Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, Rep. John Lewis, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, Rep. Dwight Evans, Rep. Tom O’Halleran, Rep. Julia Brownley, Rep. Salud Carbajal, Rep. Kathy Castor, Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, Rep. Donald McEachin, Rep. Donald M. Payne, Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, Rep. Dina Titus, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, Rep. Rick Larsen, Rep. Mark DeSaulnier, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Rep. Alma Adams, Rep. André Carson, Rep. Jackie Speier.  

Also, including the following Members of the Senate: 

Sen. Cory Booker, Sen. Jeff Merkley, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Sen. Ed Markey, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Sen. Ron Wyden, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Sen. Brian Schatz, Sen. Richard Durbin, Sen. Tim Kaine. 

The text of the letter can be found below:

                                                                                August 7, 2017 

Dear Attorney General Sessions:

We write to you to express deep disappointment regarding the brief the Department of Justice filed in the case of Zarda v. Altitude Express, which is pending before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not protect lesbian, gay, or bisexual people from discrimination. We believe this action is not only contrary to existing law, but violates our nation’s ideals of liberty and justice for all.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enacted to better protect Americans who have historically been vulnerable and marginalized. It enshrined the idea that Martin Luther King, Jr. stated so well that “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Since then, our country has made incredible progress in working towards protecting the rights of all people, regardless of their race, color, religion, national origin, disability, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation. But we still have a ways to go.


Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 precludes employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission—the federal agency charged with enforcing Title VII’s provisions and other employment non-discrimination laws—interprets that section to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation, based on a growing body of caselaw. In fact, several federal district courts and, most recently, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit have properly concluded that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination is understood to include discrimination based on sexual orientation. This reflects a growing consensus that discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation cannot be understood without reference to sex. To argue the opposite defies any reasonable interpretation of what sex discrimination means.

The Department of Justice’s decision to weigh in on the Zarda case is not only incredibly disappointing, but contrary to existing law. Additionally, it comes on the heels of President Trump’s announcement earlier in the day that transgender people will no longer be able to serve their country in the military—a decision that weakens the U.S. Armed Forces. Any discrimination is completely unacceptable. It tears at the fabric of our great nation and does not move us forward; it takes us backward. We urge the Department of Justice to reverse its position and to refrain from arguing against protections for LGBT people in any future Title VII cases dealing with the issue of whether sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.



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