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Sexual Orientation Discrimination in the Workplace

Federal and state labor law exists to protect you from workplace discrimination and give you employment rights.

Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity Discrimination in General

Sexual orientation discrimination refers to harassment or differential treatment based on someone's perceived or actual sexual orientation (including being gay, lesbian, or bisexual). Gender identity discrimination refers to harassment or differential treatment based on someone's actual or perceived transgender status or gender identity.

Both sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. Additionally, many workplaces, and even a number of states, have policies and laws against sexual orientation and/or gender identity discrimination.

Differential treatment could include things like being overlooked for a promotion, being given baseless write-ups or improvement plans, and wrongful termination because of your sexual orientation or gender identity. Harassment may include comments and name-calling regarding your sexual orientation or gender identity or repetitive requests for dates. Whether such behavior amounts to a hostile work environment is a question for a jury, so if you feel you are being harassed at work it is important to document in writing all of the inappropriate behavior taking place. 

Federal Laws Against Discrimination

There are federal laws that protect against workplace discrimination based on race, sex, national origin, age, religion, pregnancy status, and disability. In the 2020 U. S. Supreme Court case Bostock v. Clayton County, the Court held that discrimination based on "sex" includes forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. These laws don't apply just to the federal government and federal employees; they apply to private employers and employees in the private sector as well.

Prior to the 2020 Supreme Court ruling, numerous acts had been introduced in the U.S. Congress, including multiple versions of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and the Equality Act. The ENDA would have offered the same protections as given in Bostock v. Clayton County's interpretation of Title VII, but the Equality Act would have gone further to prohibit sexual orientation and gender discrimination in housing, education, federal funding, and other areas beyond just employment.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the federal agency that handles workplace discrimination complaints. If you believe you have been subjected to adverse employment action, a hostile work environment, or other discrimination based on LGBTQ+ status, you start the legal process by filing a charge of discrimination with the EEOC.

The EEOC will investigate your charge under anti-discrimination laws and notify you of its conclusion. You can then file a lawsuit in federal court.

State Laws Against Discrimination

There are also state laws against sex discrimination that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Almost half of the U.S. states, including the District of Columbia, have active human rights laws that prohibit LGBTQ+ discrimination. These states include:














New Hampshire

New Jersey

New Mexico

New York


Rhode Island





Company Policies

Your company may also have policies that prohibit sexual orientation discrimination and/or gender identity discrimination. By law, these policies can be more, but not less, stringent than the state or local law's standards.

These policies often include disciplinary steps imposed on managers who engage in sexual orientation discrimination. These steps can include reversing any discriminatory action taken against the employee and even terminating the manager.

Be sure to check your own company's policies, and report any discrimination to your company's human resources department. If your HR department does not remedy the issue, you may want to consult an employment lawyer.

Other Applicable Laws

Beyond federal law, state law, and company policy, your employer's treatment may also violate other employment rights, for which you could sue your employer or your coworkers. The following is a list of some employment law and labor law theories:

  • Negligent or intentional infliction of emotional distress
  • Harassment (behavior that causes emotional distress and serves no legitimate purpose)
  • Sexual harassment (even repetitive requests for dates)
  • Assault (threatening or acting as if the assaulter will touch you offensively)
  • Battery (offensive touching)
  • Invasion of Privacy
  • Defamation (communication that causes shame, ridicule, a lowered reputation, or employment or earnings to suffer)
  • Interference with an employment contract
  • Wrongful termination

Talk to an Attorney Before Filing Your Discrimination Claim

When LGBTQ+ discrimination occurs it can make you feel that you don't have any power, but that isn't the reality if you know where to seek legal help. But you are legally entitled to fair employment conditions. You do not need to live with homophobic slurs and other discriminatory behavior in the workplace.

A legal professional can give you legal advice, help you regain your confidence, assert your rights, and get the justice and compensation you deserve. Find a local employment law attorney experienced with such cases today.

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Next Steps

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

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