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Lawmakers urge court to add sexual orientation as protected class

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Congressional Democrats are urging the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York to rule that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on an individual's sexual orientation.

The 23 senators and 105 representatives filed an amicus brief June 28 in a case now before the appeals court, Anonymous, Matthew Christiansen v. Omnicom Group Inc. et al., in which a lower court had dismissed a discrimination case filed by a gay man on the basis, in part, that it was bound by the appellate court's precedent.

The congressmen are all sponsors of the proposed Equality Act, which would expand civil rights law to include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, in addition to already protected classes such as sex, race and religion.

In the underlying case, Mr. Christiansen had filed suit against his employer, New York-based DDB Worldwide Communications Group Inc., a unit of Omnicom, charging harassment by a supervisor in violation of Title VII, among other charges.

In her March 9, 2016, ruling granting Omnicom summary judgment dismissing the case, U.S. District Court Judge Katheryn Polk Failla in New York cited the 2nd Circuit's 2000 ruling in Simonton v. Runyon in which the court “unequivocally held that 'Title VII does not proscribe discrimination because of sexual orientation.'”

“The broader legal landscape has undergone significant changes since the Second Circuit's decision in Simonton,” Judge Failla said. However, she said, “Simonton is still good law, and, as such, this Court is bound by its dictates.”

The amicus brief states that Simonton was wrongly decided and should be overturned.

“We firmly believe that Title VII's sex discrimination provision already prohibits discrimination based on an individual's sexual orientation and gender identity, and we urge the Court to overrule erroneous Second Circuit precedent to the contrary,” says the amicus brief.