Fighting Sexual Orientation Discrimination on the Job
Workplace discrimination on the basis of one's actual or perceived sexual orientation (or sexual identity) is prohibited by federal law following the landmark Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton County. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex includes sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination. LGBTQ+ workers therefore are protected against sexual harassment from co-workers, adverse employment action, a hostile work environment, and other forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status.
In addition to the protection from workplace discrimination at the federal level, some state human rights laws also protect LGBTQ+ employees by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Some municipalities, such as New York and the District of Columbia, have similar local laws. Below are the steps individuals can take if their civil rights are violated and they are subjected to employment discrimination under employment law.
The following basic steps will help you get started. Contact an employment lawyer if you have additional questions.
- Collect and preserve any available evidence of the discriminatory conduct, such as email or phone messages, and compile a list of witnesses
- Keep copies of any favorable employment reviews, congratulatory emails, and related correspondence
- Review your company's workplace policies and/or your union contract for information about grievance procedures, reporting processes, and contractual rights
- Report the matter to the appropriate workplace contact (often in HR)
- Consider filing a complaint with the appropriate agency, such as the EEOC (see below)
- Consider asking a labor law attorney about other legal options available to you
Keep any documentation of alleged discriminatory offenses you have at your home, not in the workplace. Keep in mind that unscrupulous employers hoping to avoid legal trouble may attempt to destroy or alter positive performance reviews or evidence of wrongdoing. In addition to evidence, take detailed notes about each discriminatory incident, the date/time/location it took place, and the people involved.
If you believe you have been discriminated against at work, you will likely need to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is the arm of the federal government that oversees compliance for many federal civil rights laws prohibiting workplace discrimination and harassment. You should also contact your state's equal employment agency with your complaint so they can investigate violations of state laws.
The EEOC (or your state's agency) will likely contact your employer within 10 days of your filing and will then conduct an investigation into what happened. The agency will likely have success in getting a quick response from your employer. Depending on the results of the investigation, the EEOC could decide to sue your employer in a civil rights lawsuit or attempt to work out a settlement on your behalf.
If the agency decides not to sue, it will give you permission to sue on your own if you still believe sexual orientation discrimination or gender identity discrimination took place. You can bring your lawsuit in the federal courts.
For specific information about how to file a claim of discrimination, see FindLaw's directory of State Labor Agencies or speak with a labor attorney in your state.
Why You May Want a Lawyer's Help
Even if you work with the EEOC or a state agency, you may still benefit from an employment lawyer's help. A lawyer can look at the facts of your situation and help you describe it in a way that is most likely to get the EEOC's attention.
A lawyer can also help you determine if there are other claims that may be involved. For example, you may have another civil claim against your employer such as negligent or intentional infliction of emotional stress, assault, battery, invasion of privacy, or defamation. Talk to a qualified discrimination lawyer for help with any step of the process.
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Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.