I was harassed at work and terminated for being gay. Is that sex discrimination?

November 1, 2018

The scope of what constitutes sex discrimination in the workplace has started to expand.  In some states, cases have proceeded on an argument where employees harassed and fired for their sexual orientation were successful on claims of sex discrimination.

The purpose of this post is to provide important information to employees regarding sex discrimination and how sexual orientation discrimination falls under that umbrella.

What is Sexual Orientation Discrimination?

Sexual orientation discrimination is a form of discrimination that is directed at employees who belong to or are perceived to belong to the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. Discrimination of this sort is prohibited in a number of states, including California.

At the federal level, Congress has yet to enact a comprehensive law that explicitly prohibits sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace. Nonetheless, some of the regulation agencies who are in charge of enforcing discrimination law have done so. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission(EEOC) have interpreted a more expansive version of Title VII and the Civil Rights Act. In recent lawsuits, the EEOC has interpreted laws prohibiting sex discrimination as to equally protecting against sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

The significance of this is important, specifically because of the failure of federal laws to provide those same protections. This EEOC is now enforcing sex discrimination laws in a way which protects employees in nearly every area of employment including hiring, firing, and compensation, from sexual orientation discrimination.

State Level

Many states, such as California, have taken a progressive approach when it comes to sexual orientation discrimination at work. California state laws, unlike federal laws, explicitly prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. California goes even further, protecting workers from an employer’s perceptions of a worker’s sexual orientation or gender identity, even if those perceptions are incorrect.

California has been on the forefront of implementing these protections, but similar protections have now come to place in many other states. Currently, there are only 12 states in the nation that do not offer any sort of protections against sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace.

What Should I Do If I’ve Been Harassed at Work on the Basis of My Sexual Orientation?

As always, the best way for an employee to protect themselves from these forms of discrimination is to be knowledgeable about the protections provided to them by the law. It is important to know that the EEOC has begun to enforce Title VII as a protection against sexual orientation discrimination.

This opens up many protections to LGBT workers who feel they are being targeted because of their sexual orientation. Most importantly, an employee can file an administrative charge with the EEOC. If requested, the EEOC will then take the necessary steps to conduct an independent investigation into the complainant’s accusations. The EEOC will do so on the employee’s behalf and provide the employee with written documentation regarding the outcome of their investigation.

The EEOC will begin its investigation once an employee files a administrative charge through their offices. It is important to note that the EEOC may contact your employer or co-workers and even visit your office in order to conduct a thorough investigation.

Once the EEOC has conducted a full investigation they will send the parties a letter stating the outcome and conclusions of the investigation. If the EEOC determines that there is reasonable cause to believe that the employee is being subjected to discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, they will provide the complainant with a right to sue notice. This permits the employee to proceed to court with proper representation. An EEOC investigation is a necessary step prior to filing a sexual orientation discrimination lawsuit. Without filing an administrative charge with the EEOC, any lawsuit that is filed will be immediately thrown out.

Contact An Experienced Attorney

If an employee feels that they are being subjected to any form of discrimination in the workplace on the basis of their sexual orientation, then they should consult with an attorney who is experienced in labor law immediately. The laws governing sexual orientation discrimination are complex. There are strict regulations governing the process for filing a lawsuit. Furthermore, there are strict time restrictions, known as statute of limitations, as to when a lawsuit can be filed. The experienced attorneys at Shegerian Conniff are ready to hold your employer accountable, fight for your legal rights, and seek justice.  Click here to contact us today or call us at 310-322-7500 for a free consultation.