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Despite recent victories for LGBT civil rights, many obstacles remain in the workplace cry out for legal remedies. Currently, about 21% of LGBT employees report workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation with respect to hiring, promotion and pay.

Of all discrimination complaints, about 1 in 25 come from LGBT workers. And sadly, many LGBT employees still remain closeted at work for fear of discrimination or alienation from coworkers. 40% of LGBT employees experience harassment at work, and the numbers are even higher for transgender people – 90% of whom face workplace discrimination.

Understanding LGBT Inequality in the Workplace

Workplace Harassment Regarding Sexual Orientation or Identity

The types of behaviors that make up sexual orientation discrimination and workplace harassment are varied. According to the Human Rights Campaign, two-thirds of LGBT employees have heard gay and lesbian jokes while working. Again, the numbers are higher for transgender jokes: 40% of those reporting had heard them. It goes without saying that this type of experience may make workers feel uncomfortable in the workplace. In fact, nearly one in ten LGBT employees left their job because the environment was unwelcoming. Career prospects of LGBT workers might also suffer from sexual orientation discrimination and harassment: 23% of LGBT employees fear they may not be offered opportunities for career development or promotion. Because of this, some LGBT workers feel as if they can’t be honest about themselves at work: more than half of LGBT employees hide their sexual identity at the workplace, and more than a third lie about their personal lives at work.

LGBT Employees are Protected Under Title VII and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA)

Both federal and state employment laws provide protection against sexual orientation discrimination and related workplace issues. The most important federal law that applies is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which forbids any employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. Section 703 of Title VII defines unlawful employment practices to include failing to hire an applicant or discriminating against an applicant with respect to compensation or other terms of employment because of his or her sex. The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) contains similar and expanded protections for employees based upon their sexual orientation.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) takes the position that existing provisions of Title VII protect LGBT employees against employment bias. In a 1998 case, the Supreme Court agreed that Title VII covers harassment of gay and lesbian employees. According to the EEOC, examples of Title VII violations include:

  • Firing an employee for planning to make a gender transition
  • Failing to provide an employee access to a bathroom corresponding to their gender identity
  • Refusing to hire an applicant because they are transgender
  • Denying an employee a promotion because he or she is gay
  • Discriminating in pay or benefits in favor of non-LGBT employees
  • Harassing an employee because of their sexual orientation

Additionally, if you are a graduate student, your school may be defined as your workplace. The Department of Education has also stated that Title IX, which covers similar discrimination against university students, protects LGBT students from discrimination and harassment.

California Laws Protect Workers from LGBT Discrimination

Recent changes to California law have provided even more protections to LGBT employees working within the state. For examples, 2013 directives from the California Department of Managed Health Care (DMHC) forbid insurance companies from discriminating against LGBT people in their coverage and require insurers to cover medically necessary transition-related healthcare expenses for transgender policy holders. This means that if you receive healthcare benefits through your employer, that healthcare provider will be subject to these requirements.

Recently, the state legislature passed SB 1146, which allows students at California colleges with religious exemptions from Title IX to sue their schools for sexual discrimination in state court, and requires those exempt schools to inform students of the exemption before they enroll. These schools could previously expel students on the basis of sexual identity without prior warning that such a possibility existed.

Lastly, SB 703 which was passed in September of 2015, added additional protections for transgender employees working for companies that seek contracts with the state government in California. The state can no longer enter into contracts worth $100,000 or more with companies that discriminate against transgender employees with respect to healthcare benefits.

LGBT Discrimination in California: For Further Reading

  • California Fair Employment and Housing Act
  • California Sexual Orientation Discrimination Laws: Common Questions
  • California SB 1146: An Update to LGBT Discrimination Laws
  • SB 703 Expands Transgender Employee Rights in California, Offers Equal Benefits
  • What You Should Know About EEOC and the Enforcement Protections for LGBT Workers via EEOC.gov
  • Workplace Discrimination: The LGBT Workforce via The Huffington Post

If you are an employee in California who is being subjected to sexual orientation discrimination, rest assured that California state and federal laws may protect you from unlawful employer behaviors. Contact the expert California sexual orientation discrimination attorneys at Hennig Ruiz today for a free consultation.