Many LGBT workers in Houston and across the country may be concerned about the threat of discrimination on the job. In February 2018, however, these workers received additional legal support as a federal appeals court ruled that existing federal anti-discrimination laws prevent companies from firing workers because of their sexual orientation. The ruling came in the case filed by a skydiving instructor who lost his job reportedly after telling one of his clients that he is gay.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York said that previous courts had found that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act did not protect workers from firing based on sexual orientation. However, the court argued in its ruling that legal doctrine must evolve and that sexual orientation discrimination is linked to sex discrimination. The majority opinion was supported by four of the appeals court’s justices while three more dissented. The Civil Rights Act, passed in 1964, explicitly bars discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

The ongoing debate in U.S. federal courts over sexual orientation discrimination and the Civil Rights Act has hinged on whether discrimination against LGBT employees is a subset of sex discrimination. The Seventh U.S. Circuit Court has also previously ruled that it is. The ongoing legal issue could find its way to the Supreme Court. Federal government departments also differ on interpretation, with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission arguing that the law bars sexual orientation discrimination while the Justice Department claiming otherwise.

Employees have a right to be free of discrimination on the job. An employment lawyer can help workers who have suffered from discrimination to take action to pursue accountability from their employers.