2d Circuit Revives Sexual Orientation Discrimination Case Against Breitling in Light of Zarda Ruling

In Cargian v. Breitling USA, Inc., No. 16-3592-cv, 2018 WL 4293325 (2d Cir. Sept. 10, 2018) (Summary Order), the Second Circuit vacated and remanded a prior order granting summary judgment to defendant in plaintiff’s sexual orientation discrimination case asserted under, inter alia, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The basis for this reversal was the Court’s decision in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., 883 F.3d 100 (2d Cir. 2018) (en banc), finding that Title VII’s prohibition on discrimination based on “sex” also prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation.

The court explained:

The district court issued a memorandum and order on September 29, 2016, granting summary judgment to Breitling on the ground that Title VII does not prohibit private employers from discriminating against their employees based on their sexual orientation. Relying on this Court’s decisions in Simonton v. Runyon, 232 F.3d 33, 35 (2d Cir. 2000), and Dawson v. Bumble & Bumble, 398 F.3d 211, 217–23 (2d Cir. 2005), the district court concluded that “discrimination based upon sexual orientation is not currently actionable under Title VII.” At the time the order was issued, however, the district court lacked the benefit of the guidance provided by this Court’s recent February 2018 decision in Zarda v. Altitude Express, Inc., 883 F.3d 100 (2d Cir. 2018) (en banc), which addresses this Circuit’s jurisprudence on sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII. The Court in Zarda considered the “changing legal landscape that has taken shape in the nearly two decades since Simonton issued,” to reach the ultimate holding that “Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation as discrimination ‘because of … sex.’ ” Id. at 108. Additionally, Zarda overruled Simonton and Dawson to the extent they held otherwise. Id.

Because the legal framework for evaluating Title VII claims has evolved substantially in this Circuit, we conclude the district court should have the opportunity to consider in the first instance whether Cargian’s claims can survive a motion for summary judgment after Zarda altered that legal landscape. Given that the district court declined to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Cargian’s remaining claims in light of the dismissal of his federal law claims, the district court is free to reconsider that aspect of its prior ruling on remand. In so concluding, we express no opinion as to the proper resolution of Cargian’s Title VII and state law claims on remand.

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