Sexual orientation discrimination and gender identity discrimination are actually two separate concepts. They are defined in the following ways:

  • Sexual Orientation Discrimination: This type of discrimination refers to an individual who receives differential treatment or is harassed because of the fact that they either are or are perceived to be gay, lesbian, transgender, heterosexual, or bi-sexual.
  • The individual does not actually have to be gay, lesbian, transgender, or bi-sexual in order for the law to afford them protection from sexual orientation discrimination.
  • Gender Identity Discrimination: This type of discrimination specifically occurs when an individual is harassed or receives differential treatment based on how they express themselves in relation to their gender.
  • For instance, if they present themselves in a manner associated with the opposite sex or undergo medical treatment to transition to the opposite gender.
  • Gender Discrimination: Gender discrimination is slightly different and should not be confused with gender identity discrimination. Gender discrimination is when an individual is harassed or receives differential treatment due to their gender.
  • This is also sometimes known as sexism. The difference between gender and gender identity discrimination is that gender identity discrimination includes gender expression.

As of June 15, 2020, in a landmark case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that all three types of discrimination are considered illegal and are explicitly protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”)

Prior to this decision, only gender discrimination was recognized under Title VII. This means that it is now illegal in every state for an employer to terminate a worker simply for being gay, transgender, or bi-sexual. 

Do Federal Laws Explicitly Protect Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination?

As discussed above, Title VII, which is a federal law, did not apply to sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination before the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent opinion. Now, however, Title VII applies to all three types of discrimination.

In general, Title VII applies to employers in both the public and private sectors, so long as they have 15 or more employees. Additionally, it also applies to federal agencies, labor organizations, and the federal government. 

Thus, as of this ruling, federal law does explicitly protect against sexual orientation discrimination in both the public and private sectors when it meets the requirements laid out in Title VII.

How Does Federal Law Protect Me from Private Sector Sexual Orientation Discrimination?

Under federal law Title VII, it is strictly forbidden for an employer to discriminate against an employee or worker based on their sexual orientation. This can involve any situation in which an employer treats that worker poorly in regard to any aspect of their employment, including job tasks, promotions, termination, payments, fringe benefits, and so forth.

For example, an employer may not terminate an employee for being bi-sexual. If this occurs, the employee may file a claim with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”)

From there, the EEOC will conduct an investigation. Depending on their findings, the employer will either have to possibly change their policies or comply with whatever remedy the EEOC decides will solve the issue.

On the other hand, if the results of the EEOC investigation are not sufficient for the employee, then they may proceed to bring a lawsuit against their employer under Title VII. This can happen after they receive a Right to Sue letter

Again, before the above mentioned case was decided, sexual orientation discrimination did not exist as grounds for a lawsuit. Instead, the employee only had the option of bringing a suit on the basis of gender discrimination.

Do Federal Laws Protect Me from Gender Identity Discrimination?

As with sexual orientation discrimination, gender identity discrimination is now considered illegal as well under Title VII. For instance, if an employer harasses or discriminates against an employee because the employer believes they do not conform to their respective gender role or stereotype, their behavior will be deemed illegal according to the terms of VII.

It should be noted that the steps to file a claim for gender identity discrimination are much the same as the steps discussed for claims involving sexual orientation discrimination.

Does State Law Afford Any Protections for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination?

Traditionally, federal law only prohibited discrimination based on race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, and sex. As a result, many states went beyond the federal law to offer protection against discriminatory acts involving sexual orientation or gender identity. 

In contrast, in the states that did not enact their own laws to protect persons from these types of discrimination, it was very difficult to bring a lawsuit against an employer based on those grounds.

Today, however, whether or not a state has further protections in place a person may bring a lawsuit under Title VII for sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination claims. This means that in states that previously had no relevant laws, such as Alabama and West Virginia, employers will now face legal repercussions for these types of discriminatory behavior. 

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Discrimination Issues?

If you believe your employer has committed an act of sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination towards you, then you should contact a local employment lawyer immediately. Your lawyer will be able to walk you through the process of filing a claim and discussing what the best course of legal action may be for your case.