Updated:
September 10, 2019

Don Zarda loved to skydive.  He worked as a skydiving instructor at Altitude Express, a company on Long Island, N.Y. He was fired for being gay.

Skydiving started as a hobby but became a career for Don. By 2010, Don had been skydiving for nearly 20 years and performed hundreds of jumps as a skydiving instructor. After a customer learned Don was gay, the customer complained to Don’s employer and Don was fired from the job and the company he built his life around.

Don’s teaching often involved tandem skydives, in which he was strapped hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder with clients, who often were novices doing their first dives for fun. In the summer of 2010, Don and a co-worker took a young couple – a man and a woman – up for tandem skydives. As they were preparing for the dive and Don was strapping himself to the woman, Don told her that he was gay to assuage any concern she had about being in close physical contact with a man she didn’t really know. He never thought the comment would cause the end of his career at Altitude Express. But after the dive, Don’s boss fired him because he had come out to the woman.

Tragically, Don died in a skydiving accident in 2014. His surviving partner, Bill Moore, and his sister, Melissa Zarda, have continued the lawsuit on behalf of Don’s estate.

“When my brother told me that he was fired, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that you could be fired for being gay. I thought that this had to be against the law. I hope the Supreme Court will see that what happened to my brother was wrong.” – Melissa Zarda

The ACLU represents Don’s estate as co-counsel with N.Y. lawyer Greg Antollino and with Pam Karlan of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.

 

See all of the friend-of-the-court briefs filed in the LGBTQ discrimination cases before the Supreme Court.

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