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Federal Job Protections Granted to LGBTQ Workers
Members of the LGBTQ community have faced significant discrimination for decades, especially in the professional world. Many employers may refuse to hire an employee due to his or her actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, making it difficult for LGBTQ people to find safe and stable employment. A recent landmark Supreme Court ruling will now extend federal job protection to LGBTQ employees, and marks another step forward in the development of inclusive employment law.
The Supreme Court’s Title VII Decision
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, religion, or national origin. Originally, the definition of sex only applied to the traditional gender binary of men and women; an employer can’t fire a woman based on her sex, or a man based on his sex.
Lower courts extended the definition to include gender identity and sexual orientation in the cases R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, and Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda.
On June 15, 2020, the United States Supreme Court ruled that Title VII extends federal job protections to LGBTQ employees. The decision, written by Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch, stated that an employer firing an LGBTQ person based on gender identity or sexual orientation would rely on traits related to their sex when making the firing decision. As a result, firing someone due to gender identity or sexual orientation is a violation of federal law.
For example, if an employer decides to fire a lesbian woman for dating women but does not fire a heterosexual man for dating women, this a form of sex-based discrimination because the employer makes the decision based on the lesbian employee’s sex.
What to Do If You Suspect LGBTQ Employment Discrimination
It is illegal on a federal level for an employer to discriminate against you on the basis of your sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity, along with a number of other protected factors. You may be able to seek justice through an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint against the employer, or the EEOC may provide you with a Notice of Right to Sue that will allow you to file a civil lawsuit against the employer, even if you signed an agreement waiving these rights.
If you believe your employer or prospective employer fired you, refused to hire you, retaliated against you, or committed workplace harassment due to your LGBTQ status, take the following steps.
- Collect all evidence related to the discrimination. Save copies of any emails or memos you receive, record conversations and discriminatory incidents in a journal, and write down the names of witnesses who may be able to assist your case.
- Be mindful of events that may constitute retaliation. Your employer may try to retaliate against you if he or she believes you are filing a complaint. If you receive a demotion, a cut in your pay or hours, or lose your job, record this information and save all documentation.
- Contact an attorney as soon as possible. You may need guidance navigating through the EEOC process and he or she can represent your best interests if your case progresses to a lawsuit or requires negotiation or mediation.
Hiring an employment attorney is an important investment for any EEOC claim or civil lawsuit. Your attorney will help you investigate your claim and collect all important pieces of evidence while protecting you from retaliation or further discrimination. If you have not done so already, contact an employment lawyer as soon as possible to discuss your case.