So there has been quite a bit of publicity in the news about the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell”, but many may be surprised to know that there are still few protections in the workplace against sexual orientation discrimination.
Sexual orientation discrimination includes being treated differently or harassed because of your real or perceived sexual orientation — whether gay, lesbian, bisexual, or heterosexual.
Although federal laws, such as Title VII and the ADA protect people from workplace discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sex, age, and disability, there is no federal law that specifically outlaws workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the private sector. (Federal government workers are protected from such discrimination.) Attempts to pass federal legislation that would outlaw sexual orientation discrimination in private workplaces have been unsuccessful to date.
There is more hope at the state level. Almost half the states and the District of Columbia have laws that currently prohibit sexual orientation discrimination in both public and private jobs: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin. Notably the Florida Civil Rights Act has no such protections.
If you are gay or lesbian and your state does not have a law that protects you from workplace discrimination, you may still be protected by city and county ordinances. Many cities and counties prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in at least some workplaces. For instance, while Florida does not have a state law that protects against gender identity discrimination, there are some local ordinances at the county level to pursue. Some of the counties in Florida that offer such protection include Broward, Palm Beach, Leon, Monroe, Pinellas and several cities.
In addition, even where you can’t invoke one of the county or local ordinances, there may be other common law causes of action that can be brought including: assault, battery, slander, etc.
To find out exactly what kind of protection your city, county, and/or state provides to prohibit sexual orientation discrimination, you can visit the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund website at www.lambdalegal.org. Lambda maintains a list of state-by-state antidiscrimination laws, as well as other laws specifically affecting gays and lesbians. If you need additional information, you can contact the Lambda office in your region. There, an intake volunteer will either answer your question or, if you need more help, connect you with a volunteer attorney.
In addition, if you need further assistance with any legal claims of gender identity discrimination, feel free to contact Scott Behren and the Behren Law Firm to discuss your issues. Our law firm has handled many of these types of claims at the county level and are willing to help.