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LGBT Rights in the Workplace. Where are We Now and How Did We Get Here?

Any act of treating an employee unfairly based on a characteristic he or she cannot change, such as the employee’s race, national origin, or sexual orientation is an act of discrimination. Discrimination hurts employees by keeping them from positions and promotions they deserve while also impacting companies as wholes, fostering workplace cultures where such treatment is accepted.

In many places across the country, sexual orientation is a protected class. In some, but considerably fewer places, gender identity is also a protected class. In areas where these are not protected classes, LGBT individuals can face harassment and discrimination in their workplaces without the clear path to recourse that they have in states and cities that explicitly protect these classes from workplace discrimination.

The History of LGBT Non-Discrimination Rights in the Workplace

The first LGBT non-discrimination laws in the United States were passed in 1972, when Ann Arbor and East Lansing, Michigan, enacted them at the local level. By 1983, five states, including New York, and the District of Columbia, listed sexual orientation as a protected class in state-level non-discrimination laws regarding state employment.

Today, New York law lists both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes in all employment.

LGBT Discrimination at the Federal Level

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlines the classes protected from discrimination in United States employment law. Although sexual orientation and gender identity are not explicitly listed, the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission (EEOC) has ruled that both of these fall under the category of sex-based discrimination, thereby making discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity illegal in all workplaces governed by this law. However, these decisions were not legally binding, which means that claims of such might not be upheld in states that do not protect these classes in their state-level laws.

Across the country, there are many areas where LGBT individuals and couples can face open discrimination. These include Mississippi’s Protecting the Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act, which permits government employees and businesses to refuse service to LGBT individuals and couples if such are in conflict with their personal beliefs. In response, New York and a few other states have banned officials from non-essential, state-funded travel to Mississippi and a few private companies have expressed their displeasure with the law. Following the recent controversy involving the Commerce Department, the continued federal protection of LGBT workers is uncertain. As citizens, it is everybody’s job to promote tolerance and progress for LGBT Americans by taking action when discrimination occurs.

Work with an Experienced New York Discrimination Lawyer

As an LGBT worker, you have the same rights in the workplace as your heterosexual and cisgender colleagues. If you feel your rights were violated in any way, speak up and consider working with an experienced employment lawyer to file a discrimination claim. Contact our team at Ricotta & Marks, P.C. today or call us at (347)-464-8694 to set up your initial consultation with our firm, during which we can examine the details of your case to determine the most productive way to proceed.

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