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Fighting Sexual Orientation Discrimination on the Job

Federal law prohibits workplace discrimination because of one's actual or perceived sexual orientation. This law stems from the landmark Supreme Court decision in Bostock v. Clayton CountyThe 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. LGBT and LGBTQ employees, therefore, are protected against:

  • Sexual harassment from co-workers
  • Adverse employment action
  • A hostile work environment
  • Other forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status

In addition to employee rights protection from workplace discrimination at the federal level, some state human rights laws also protect LGBTQ+ workers by prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Some municipalities, like New York and the District of Columbia, have similar local laws.

Below are the steps that queer and transgender employees (all LGBTQ+ employees) can take if their civil rights are violated and they are subjected to employment discrimination under employment law.

LGBTQ+ Discrimination: Filing a Claim

The following steps will help you start filing a discrimination claim. 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, who will often be found in HR.
  • Consider filing a complaint with the appropriate agency, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and opening a discrimination case.
  • 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. Do not store them in the workplace. Some employers hoping to avoid legal trouble may attempt to destroy or alter evidence of wrongdoing.

Ensure you also take detailed notes about each discriminatory incident. This includes the date, the time, the location, and the people involved.

Learn more about further actions you can take.

How To Prevent Discrimination in the Workplace

The following are a few ways to prevent discrimination in the workplace:

  • Respect differences in the workplace and promote inclusivity
  • Remain professional in both conduct and speech
  • Never initiate, participate, or condone harassment or discrimination
  • Remember that doesn't matter if the harasser is your opposite sex or same-sex
  • When in doubt, leave offensive humor or slurs outside the workplace
  • Read the company's workplace policies and act accordingly
  • Report incidents to your supervisor, Human Resources department, union, or management
  • Be willing to contact the EEOC or your local human rights commission if necessary

Concerned about your health or safety at work? Under federal and state laws, employers must provide a safe workplace. Learn how to protect yourself against unsafe working conditions.

Contacting a Government Agency for Assistance

If you have been discriminated against at work, file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC provides guidance to federal agencies on the federal government's equal employment opportunity program. It oversees compliance with federal civil rights laws prohibiting workplace discrimination and harassment.

You should also contact your state's equal employment agency with your complaint. That way, they can investigate violations of state laws.

Either the EEOC or your state's agency will likely contact your employer within ten days of your filing and investigate what happened. The agency will likely succeed in getting a quick response from your employer. Depending on the investigation results, the EEOC could sue your employer in a civil rights lawsuit. The EEOC may also attempt to negotiate 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 occurred. You can bring your lawsuit to the federal courts.

For specific information about how to file a discrimination claim, see FindLaw's directory of State Labor Agencies or speak with a labor attorney in your state.

Why You May Want a Discrimination Attorney's Legal Advice

Even if you work with the EEOC or a state agency, you may still benefit from an employment lawyer's help. Most lawyers have experience with sexual harassment and discrimination laws in your state.

You should have no fear of quitting, demotions, wrongful termination, or any other sort of retaliation for filing a discrimination report. A lawyer can help protect your rights. Talk to a qualified discrimination lawyer for help with any step of the process. Put the expertise of a sexual orientation discrimination lawyer to work for you.  

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified employment discrimination attorney to make sure your rights are protected.

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