Generally speaking, it is illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of certain characterstics, such as age, race, religion, sex, and other categories. In addition to these categories, there have been a number of laws increasing equal rights for members of the LGBT community and those who identify as LGBT. There are both federal and state laws that provide more legal rights and protections, such as:
- Hate Crime Prevention Act: The Hate Crimes Prevention Act used to limit violence only associated with race and religion. However, it is now extended to sexual orientation, as well as gender and disability;
- Privacy: Sodomy laws are generally prohibited by the federal government based on the Supreme Court case of Lawrence v Texas;
- Military Service: "Don’t Ask, Don't Tell" policies were stuck down in 2011. LGBT people can now serve openly in the military branches. However, the status of transgender military members is currently being litigated and unclear;
- Housing: In the year 2012, a federal agency issued a regulation to prohibit LGBT discrimination in federally-assisted housing programs to prevent housing discrimination. However, each state has its own sets of laws that may apply to private housing discrimination and how it applies to LGBT individuals; and
- Marriage: In 2014 the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges that denying same-sex couples the right to marry violated a fundamental right and therefore was considered to be unconstitutional. With this case, same-sex marriage is now generally lawful throughout the United States.
The LGBT community is at the forefront in lobbying the federal government to provide the same civil rights protections afforded to racial minorities, women, the disabled, and the elderly. The community often works in conjunction with the ACLU and other advocacy groups.
Many states have been expanding LGBT rights well before the federal government considered the issue. However, the passage of these federal laws paves the way for more states to pass similar laws. Accordingly, each year the LGBT community continues to enjoy more legal protections.
The Hate Crimes Prevention Act was limited to violent incidents associated with race or religion. However, the Matthew Shepard Act extends basic hate crime protections to include violence based on:
- Sexual orientation;
- Actual or perceived gender;
- Gender identity; and
The bill provides federal technical and financial assistance to state and local law enforcement agencies. These are intended to help them investigate and prosecute hate crimes. Since the FBI first began collecting hate crimes statistics, more than 9,700 hate crimes based on sexual orientation have been reported. Since 1991, reported hate crimes based on sexual orientation and identity have more than tripled; they consistently rank as the third-highest category after race and religion.
In 2011 the Act was first applied to convict a person for running a group of men off of the road. The year 2016 was the first time when it was used to prosecute an individual for a crime against a transgendered person.
If you believe you have been discriminated against in the workplace due to your status as an LGBT person, you may need to file a legal claim. This is usually done by first filing a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC will conduct an investigation into your workplace to determine whether a discrimination violation has occurred. They will also take into account the discrimination laws of your particular state.
Examples of discrimination based on LGBT status may include:
- Not hiring someone solely based on their LGBT identification;
- Paying a person less than another employee who does the same type of work, based only on their sexual identity;
- Denying a person benefits, pay raises, advancements, business opportunities, and other advantages based on their status as an LGBT person;
- Firing or terminating an employee based on their sexual identity; and
- Treating one group of people better than another group based on sexual preference or identity.
In connection with the investigation, the EEOC may prescribe a legal remedy if they find that a discrimination violation has occurred. If the remedy is not sufficient to fix the issue, it may be possible to file a lawsuit directly against the employer. However, an employee must usually “exhaust their remedies” by filing with the EEOC first, before they can file a lawsuit directly against the employer.
If you believe that you have been discriminated against on the basis of your sexual orientation or identity, you should speak with an employment attorney in your area as soon as possible.
Again remember that the basis of your legal claim may depend on the particular laws of your state. An attorney can provide you with legal advice regarding the laws in your area, and can explain what your legal rights and options are in terms of obtaining a remedy.