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Can You Sue Over Anti-Gay Slurs?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Hateful slurs and epithets are something that no person should have to endure based on his or her identity, and both state and federal laws can allow victims to sue over anti-gay slurs.

Since protections for gays and lesbians against sexual orientation discrimination is an ever-changing patchwork of legislation, here are a few common examples that illustrate how a civil lawsuit can provide justice for hate speech:

Anti-Gay Slurs at Work

A Nashville city employee, Les Buckner filed suit against the city in 2012, alleging that he was "a target of repeated homophobic graffiti" for years. This prompted the city to consider settling the case with Buckner for $50,000, reports The Huffington Post.

Like many, Buckner was likely the target of sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace, which can include the use of anti-gay slurs or homophobic language.

Even if the offensive speech is used by other employees and not by a manager or supervisor, homophobic language thta creates a hostile work environment can allow an employee to sue for sexual harassment.

It is important to note that federal protections under Title VII do not specifically protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation. But in many cases, an anti-gay slur can be argued as a form of gender discrimination -- implying non-conformity to gender roles.

Hate Speech Directed at Customers

Restaurants and businesses open to the public can be sued if their employees use hate speech toward a customer, even by printing a slur on a receipt.

Most states have public accommodation laws that prevent discrimination by private businesses based on sexual orientation. These laws can potentially be the basis for a claim against a business whose employees use anti-gay slurs against customers.

Verbal Abuse by Law Enforcement

Under the same state anti-discrimination laws, state law enforcement officers can be sued for using anti-gay speech towards a detainee or arrestee. Like in police brutality lawsuits, federal law can be used to obtain a judgment against law enforcement officers or departments which use discriminatory slurs.

As with any lawsuit alleging police misconduct, there will be legal hurdles to overcome, and in many cases, a victim may need to work through a city or state's administrative remedy process before being able to file a suit.

Each case, of course, is different and presents its own unique challenges. If you've been the victim of anti-gay slurs and want to discuss your legal options, consider contacting an experienced discrimination attorney in your area.

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